Review: ‘Save Yourselves!’ is quirky alien invasion with ambiguous finale

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews 'Save Yourselves!'

It was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in January 2020 B.C.

That’s B.C. as in “Before Coronavirus,” which honestly feels like forever ago.

Now, in our new pandemic world, “Save Yourselves!” hits video-on-demand for $5.99, blending the indie rom-com genre with a sci-fi invasion story for a delightfully quirky ride that’s as authentically human as it is bizarrely campy until its ambiguous finale.

The story follows Jack (John Reynolds) and Su (Sunita Mani), a young Brooklyn couple of hipsters who head to a remote cabin in upstate New York to disconnect from technology and reconnect with each other. Little do they know that their relaxing getaway is about to be upended when the planet falls under attack by alien creatures.

Rather than make a point of it like “The Big Sick” (2017), the leads just happen to be an interracial couple. Reynolds (“Stranger Things”) and Mani (“Mr. Robot”) create believable chemistry, bickering about web-browser tabs, holding competing work calls in a shared workspace, inventing shampoo songs and trading Sean Connery jokes.

Not only is the dialogue admirably authentic, debut feature writer/directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson are adept at setups and payoffs. Numerous pieces of dialogue contain double meanings. As the protagonists embark on their trip, Jack delivers eerie foreshadowing: “It’s not the end of the world if we forget something.”

The script also cleverly handles the business of cellphones, as the couple discards their devices for a peaceful vacation. They even test the lack of Alexa as soon as they reach the cabin. Jack has an easier time unplugging than Su, who is so addicted that she could have starred in the scary Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” (2020).

Once the invasion plot begins, the twists and turns are consistently amusing like “Raising Arizona” (1987) or “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” (2010). Sometimes, the characters move too slow for their own good considering a deadly threat is hunting them, while a hallucination sequence is enjoyable but not adequately explained.

Sure, the cheesy visual effects are low-budget, but they fit the tone of the movie. We won’t spoil what the aliens look like, but let’s just say that they’re much cuddlier than “War of the Worlds” or “Independence Day” — at least they seem so on the surface.

In a way, the aliens are an unintended but prescient commentary on the coronavirus. The heroes quarantine against an invasive threat sweeping the nation and decimating urban populations like New York City, while listening to voicemails from concerned relatives who don’t know whether to believe what they heard on “Fox & Friends.”

Alas, truth is stranger than fiction, as the president isn’t infected in this movie.

Instead, the final act is frustratingly bizarre, initially teed up to be wonderfully thought- provoking only to become disappointingly ambiguous. It may involve a callback to an early bar scene where Jack receives a tiny crystal from his friend who offered them the cabin. Still, even if you rewind to that scene, you won’t find any concrete answers.

If you dig transcendent existentialism like the Star Child finale of “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), you might contemplate the end of “Save Yourselves!” to find rapture-like meanings of souls being spared. However, it’s safe to say that most mainstream audiences will leave the experience scratching their heads and wishing for closure.

Hopefully you won’t feel cheated like you just wasted 90 minutes. More likely, you’ll turn to your date and shrug, “Dang, that ending was kind of a letdown only because the rest of the film was so weirdly cool.” Like its alien creatures, the finale just goes “poof.”

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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