When co-writers/co-directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson premiered their feature debut “Save Yourselves!” at the Sundance Film Festival in early 2020, they could not have known just how eerily and specifically prescient their film about hipsters at the end of the world would be. While extraterrestrials haven’t shown up to kill us all (yet), the film does predict such apocalyptic details that have come to pass as a sudden fixation on baking sourdough bread and a crippling addiction to doom scrolling.
In fact, it’s the scrolling that serves as the impetus for the action of “Save Yourselves!” as Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds), a comfortable yet unsatisfied Brooklyn couple, peel themselves off the couch and away from their smartphones in an attempt to disconnect to reconnect. It’s a classic millennial lament that has recently grown louder: the internet — can’t live with it, can’t live without it (pair this with “The Social Dilemma” on Netflix for the ultimate digital detox double feature).
Su and Jack are trying to save themselves, but initially, it’s not from the imminent threat of danger but the slow creep of dread. Su, an achievement-oriented type, is burned out working for an abusive boss. Jack, an appealingly puppyish and hapless fella, yearns for more meaning and connection in a world of shallow hipster hypocrisy. Theyhead to a friend’s cabin in upstate New York and turn off their phones. But just as their search for authenticity is about to turn into a Reddit relationships post, a bunch of murderous “pouffeball” aliens descend on Earth and Jack and Su unexpectedly find the meaning and connection they seek in their own fight for survival.
“Save Yourselves!” follows a familiar narrative formula, in which two people who might be incompatible learn to be compatible under duress. Jack laments that he doesn’t feel like a real man because he can’t de-hook a fish or do basic plumbing. But he doesn’t really need those skills while partnered with Su, who proves to be the strong, capable, brave alpha to Jack’s nurturing, emotional beta. That’s the gender flip that Huston Fischer and Wilson offer the tale.
The alien conceit is a bit goofy and tortured, but like all good apocalypse movies, it’s not about what the big bad is, just that it happens and forces the characters into strange situations where they have to make challenging choices. In the best zombie movies, the undead serve as a metaphor for some evil of modern life, and these soft, colorful, yet invasive little buggers are the perfect representation for the seemingly innocuous, cutesy-named social media sites that suck us dry. After all, many of us willingly get on the bird app every day for a dose of fresh terror.
How does it all end? Don’t go looking to “Save Yourselves!” for answers. It lands in an ambiguous middle that’s not too bleak or too hopeful and just falls flat — an exaggerated shrug. But all the things that come before resonate, not just the sourdough and the scrolling, but the idea that things can and will change quickly, and that even in the worst of times, it’s worth it to find and savor small joys whenever and as often as possible.