The Poppies of Terra #13 - Where the Greydads Sing
By Alvaro Zinos-Amaro
No One Will Save You, directed by Brian Duffield (dir. Spontaneous; multiple writing credits), ambitiously mashes up a half-dozen science fiction and horror scenarios in its hour-and-a-half runtime. Its plot mostly sprints ahead quickly enough to outpace logic; whenever logic catches up, questions arise.
The movie opens with a young woman named Brynn, engagingly played by Kaitlyn Dever, living inside a metaphorical crop circle of social anxiety and isolation. She writes, to help process a Traumatic Past, works on a miniature model of the town–always be wary of this; think about the opening of Hereditary (2018) or the second-season episode of the 2019 Twilight Zone, “A Small Town"–,works as a clothes seamstress from her old-fashioned house, drinks wine in her yard, and hangs up the phone mounted on her wall without bothering to talk to whoever is calling. The phone, an ancient rotary device, is an important signifier. The film is set in modern times; it’s Brynn who wilfully dwells in the past.
One night, trouble comes a-knockin’ in the form of an aggressively curious Grey alien who, in fact, omits the courtesy of knocking on Brynn’s front door. Home invasion thriller, meet alien abduction nightmare: the story engine revs from The Strangers (2008) to Signs (2002) in about fifteen seconds. Brynn doesn’t have any dialogue during most of the film, which combined with the ET’s chittering sounds initially creates an ambiance similar to that of A Quiet Place (2018). That’s not to say she isn’t communicative–her fists and McGuyvered weapons do the talking.
Brynn accidentally kills the little green man. The next day she discovers that the invading creatures have been more successful in other domiciles, taking over the bodies of their inhabitants. After a tense Invasion of the Body Snatchers sequence on a bus, Brynn fights off less-garden-variety aliens with increasingly longer limbs. Eventually, after a body-double of her grown from a mini-Cthulhu tries to Ex Machina her to death (why break a sweat?), Brynn is captured, psychically examined, and returned to an all-assimilated town. Along the way we learn that as a child, in a fit of anger, she accidentally killed her best friend Maude. It appears that this, along with her determination not to be Taken (2002), is what in the aliens’ estimation sets her apart from everyone else.
Despite the engrossing, highly kinetic alien chase scenes, No One Will Save You is essentially the story of an outcast who only gains societal acceptance when society itself is over-run by beings from outer space. In a sense, it’s an inverse coming-of-age story, where maturity and connection come from an unyielding determination not to change. Brynn essentially starts the movie as Corey from Halloween Ends (2018) and ends it as Truman happy inside the Show. The finale suggests a satirical take on standard conformity-warning parables; here, humans are the cruel ones, and an inhuman world makes for a hospitable, accepting community, flowing with evening soirees and joyous dancing. Beyond this streak of subversive commentary, are we to gather that the aliens want to learn from Brynn? In “Emissary,” the pilot of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, non-corporeal entities beyond linear time tell the protagonist “You exist here” when he mentally shows them the traumatic loss of his wife. Does Brynn similarly exist at the moment of Maude’s death, in a way that defies these aliens’ comprehension? To stay with Star Trek for a moment, in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Kirk remained grounded enough to see through alien manipulation by holding on to his suffering: “I don't want my pain taken away. I need my pain.” Do these aliens see Brynn as a similar anomaly? Does she shed her pain when she is forced to reckon with it? While I applaud the risk-taking of the movie’s ending, I wouldn’t be surprised if some viewers find its execution off-puttingly flamboyant.
Besides the aforementioned movies, this follows in the UFO landing light shadows of many others. The roving blue beams, the persecution thrills, and the near-climactic abduction for me brought to mind Skyline (2010). Brynn’s youth, resourcefulness, and ability to keep her wits about her in the face of a seemingly undefeatable alien foe, evoked the more recent Predator installment Prey (2022). The look of the first Grey we see is so orthodox that it’s almost like Duffield watched The X-Files episode “Jose Chung's From Outer Space” and took it as a dare: “I don’t care that this aesthetic was ironically deconstructed in 1996, I can still make it work!” Will Whitley Strieber want Communion-related royalty checks? At least later alien designs are more macabre and innovative, though the FX don’t always hold up. In Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011), Justine’s depression seems to make her the only one reasonably attuned to an unimaginable catastrophe. Maybe something similar is true of Brynn here? Even a mainstream drama like Where the Crawdads Sing (2018) contains overlap in its examination of a resourceful woman overcoming ostracism, albeit by very different means.
As often happens with these types of stories, mysteries crowd at the gates of the narrative; let one in, and the whole throng rushes in and dismantles the castle. What do these beings with the ability to navigate vast spaces and stop time want with humans? If the mini-tentacle ones are puppeteering the human bodies, what are the Greys going to do, observe their conquered playthings from afar? Also, if those smaller creatures control their human hosts–see The Puppet Masters (1994); The Host (2013); etc.–how do they simultaneously possess the ability to spawn off into perfect duplicates of the hosts? Given the intelligence these beings would need to possess based on their technology, you’d think one of them would make a better judgment call regarding its size relative to that of Brynn’s vehicle–dude, I don’t care that you can fold spacetime, you’re not going to fit. At some point–let’s say, after the first casualty–you’d also think they’d stop sending more of their kind to single-handedly confront Brynn. Why can they only read her mind aboard the ship? Most pressing of all: given the constant cracking sounds their bones make when they adjust their shapes, with all of interstellar space at your command is it really that hard to find a decent chiropractor?