'Save Yourselves!': Film Review | Sundance 2020

Courtesy of Sundance
A slapstick apocalypse with two sharp comic leads.

In Alex H. Fischer & Eleanor Wilson's comedy, the end of the world arrives just as a young couple (Sunita Mani and John Reynolds) embraces an off-the-grid getaway.

Around the time the boyfriend/girlfriend heroes of Save Yourselves! realize the world has been invaded by killer aliens, the boyfriend (John Reynolds) makes an uncharacteristically smart observation: These are real critters, from some other world, so it makes no sense to fight them based on what human-made genre movies have taught us.

That's good advice for viewers as well, since Eleanor Wilson and Alex H. Fischer's film, though presumably imagined by humans, is not bound by the conventions of end-of-the-world comedies. Expect closure at your peril.

More convincing as a longtime couple than many millennials in recent indies, Sunita Mani and Reynolds play Su and Jack, Brooklynites who require little reason to doubt themselves. Hanging out at an engagement party, they catch up with old friend Raph (Ben Sinclair), the kind of man who drives underachieving cool kids insane: He's just back from some exotic country, where he runs a startup making 3D-printed, sustainable surfboards. Out of algae. With a design inspired by whale fins.

Su and Jack drunkenly agree to stop looking at their phones all the time and actually do something. They set out for a week alone at Raph's cabin in the mountains, where they solemnly hide their phones from themselves. They hike, canoe and do other things they struggle not to be bored by. They look at the stars at night, and are astounded at the number of shooting stars they see. Must be a meteor shower, huh? Either that, or an incoming extraterrestrial army.

Both Mani and Reynolds have earned the attention of comedy fans in the last few years; each has been well featured in multiple long-running TV roles, but neither has had this kind of showcase. Together, they make the film an enjoyable look at thirtysomething indecision even before the arrival of the monsters, who are so odd-looking our heroes first assume they're pieces of weird decor. Star Trek fans will see them as overgrown Tribbles: ottoman-sized balls of fur with no visible features, sitting still on the floor or clinging the wall much of the time. Su and Jack call the first one they see a Pouffe; the cute name sticks, even after they prove to be quite lethal.

Wilson and Fischer have teased us from near the start, showing us glimpses of the apocalypse to which Jack and Su are oblivious. After they realize these Pouffes move — and they're hungry — they decide they've gone long enough without contacting the outside world. Panicked phone messages suggest the things are attracted to ethanol, which mean they're likely to have drained the tank of any car before the humans can reach it to escape. Still, Su and Jack make it out onto the road, after frantically funny sequences of inept preparation.

This is the point at which the script really starts playing by its own rules — saddling the couple with unusual baggage and refusing to let us imagine a way things might work out in their favor. It doesn't stop being entertaining; and the way the two get past little points of frustration with each other reminds us that the pic's title can apply to both humanity in general and this relationship specifically. Many couples who stay together after a crisis of self-doubt decide they should have a child; others say goodbye to everything that's familiar and start life over. Jack and Su might get a chance to do both, if they don't get pouffed first.

Production company: Keshet Studios
Cast: Sunita Mani, John Reynolds, Ben Sinclair
Directors-screenwriters: Alex H. Fischer, Eleanor Wilson
Producers: Mandy Tagger Brockey, Adi Ezroni, Kara Durrett
Director of photography: Matt Clegg
Production designer: Katie Fleming
Costume designer: Brooke Bennett
Editor: Sofi Marshall
Composer: Andrew Orkin
Casting director: Djinous Rowling
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (U.S. Dramatic Competition)
Sales: Deborah McIntosh, Endeavor Content; Leo Teste, Film Constellation

93 minutes