The ratings game is something of a bust these days; who cares how many Monopoly-money pseudo hits something racks up on YouTube? If you switch off the autoplay function, YouTube logs you out, so you just have to leave it switched on and accept that while you’re sleeping, it’ll rack up huge numbers for their own rubbish clips and shows that you’d never watch; Graham Norton, Jonathan Ross, Claudia Winkleman and all sorts of other Laan-daan sh*te seem to be the main beneficiaries of this practice. Yet somehow genuine sleeper hits happen online; Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit, The Squid Game and Cobra Kai on Netflix have all snowballed into pop-culture phenomena. Cocaine Bear producer Brian Duffield’s second film as director, No One Will Save You seems to be causing a similar must-watch spell on the couch-bound masses since absolutely EVERYONE is talking about it, and there’s several reasons for that word of mouth success.
It helps, of course, that big-name industry sages like Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro have come out to acclaim No One Will Save You as a BF deal, and they’re not wrong. Screening on Hulu in the US, and Disney+ elsewhere, this is an atmospheric, ambiguous slice of Twilight Zone sci-fi, delivered with a novel twist; there’s absolutely zero dialogue at all. ‘Show don’t tell’ is one of the classic mantras of Hollywood, but completely wordless movies are rare and hard to pull-off.
A familiar face from movies like Booksmart, Ticket to Paradise and Rosaline, Kaitlyn Dever gives a lightning-strike performance as Brynn, suffering from understandable anxiety about leaving her house. This is a psychological thriller rather than a horror movie; Brynn has a dubious past lightly sketched in, but not properly explained; her mother is dead, but there’s some ambiguity about exactly what has happened to Brynn’s sister. A gentle, creative soul, Brynn creates intricate dioramas of the main streets of the small town she lives on the edge of, but when she attempts to alert the authorities about the strange goings on she notices in the skies, she’s chased out, and the threatening inhabitant of the bus she rides home seem far stranger that the usual commuters…
So we’re talking about a potential stealth alien invasion, perhaps, but Duffield plays things close to his chest; without exposition or explanatory dialogue, we’re left to draw our own conclusions. Brynn manages to kill one of the invading creatures early on, but having hard evidence doesn’t seem to resolve anything, and what exactly are these coaster-marks on the ground and what are these strange, gelid yet spiky sea-anemone spores that Brynn dreams of swallowing? Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a key genre text, one that can be updated in 1957, 1978 and 1993 with different political meanings and sub-texts; No One Will Save You is our 2023 version, and speaks volumes about the sense of isolation and disconnection that our ongoing manufactured anxiety is creating.
The dreamlike No One Will Save You is intense and gripping as Kaitlyn’s situation unfolds; it’s only afterwards that wound-up audiences will be left searching for more information about what they’ve just seen, and that’s a job for the message boards and social media, where the pile-up of conflicting opinions is already substantial. Sure, a firmer punch-line might be more satisfying, but Duffield and Dever deserve credit for involving the viewing public is a one-off experiment in film; there’s a whole lotta gaslighting going in in 2023, and innovative, if flawed films like this challenge us to interpret and discuss the actual meaning what we’re consuming with such casual but misplaced confidence.