Who could forget the story of the group that went on a 25-day Grand Canyon river trip in February and returned as some of the last people to hear about COVID-19’s arrival in America? Oh, do you also feel that everything that happened in early March is a distant memory from a past life? Or perhaps didn’t happen at all—who knows anymore?
The memory resurfaced as I watched Save Yourselves!, an indie comedy-disaster film in which a couple goes off the grid for a week, only to find out mid-vacation that there’s been an alien invasion. Much like our real-life rafters, Jack (John Reynolds) and Su (Sunita Mani) have no contact with the outside world, having retreated to a cabin in the woods after realizing how dependent they’ve become on their screens. Unlike our rafting friends, the danger this duo is unaware of arrives in the form of low-budget, fluffy, ball-shaped aliens that kill.
Though the movie, which premiered at Sundance in January before its release this month on Amazon Prime and Google Play, was produced pre-COVID, it all feels a little on the nose now. Here’s a movie that revolves around the annoying old trope of the tech-addicted millennial and the increasingly relatable concept of the end of the world, while we’re in the middle of (among other things) a global crisis where most of our relationships must play out over video calls. Even so, Save Yourselves! manages to clear those hurdles for a surprisingly escapist 93 minutes.
Expectations are very important when it comes to alien movies. If you’re looking for lots of sci-fi adventure, an alien civilization with a fully realized backstory, or a satisfying closure, you will not get any of that in Save Yourselves! But if the thought of watching Alien currently sends you into a spiral of claustrophobic anxiety, look no further for a film that will not elevate your blood pressure. The first half of this movie is soothing, with its familiar contours of the finding-yourself-in-the-woods genre. Upon their arrival at a cabin belonging to their rich, outdoorsy friend, Jack and Su revel in the lack of Alexa or Siri and attempt self-improvement in various settings, such as a canoe in the middle of a pond. They want to disconnect! They want to be more capable, maybe learn how to catch a fish.
Reynolds and Mani are very good at playing hapless and clumsy with endearing rapport, and their general helplessness comes off not as a stale joke but as a concerning hint of things to come. In what particular ways will our protagonists be screwed when the aliens arrive? In just about every way, it turns out. “We don’t have any skills,” Su laments at one point.
It’s a very slow build toward the realization that something is going on in the world beyond the cabin. There are a lot of shooting stars—are there always that many?—and one appears to hit earth. Su sneaks a peek at her phone and hears a snippet of voice mail from her mother about giant rats in New York City. A suspicious pouffe appears in the cabin (“like an ottoman, a furry footstool,” Su explains to Jack, assuming it’s a piece of furniture). Finally, as things get really weird, the two agree to turn on their phones and realize that killer pouffes have invaded New York—and that the furry footstool is not a furry footstool.
It’s to the movie’s benefit that shit only hits the fan after much dawdling; so much of the fun is in the buildup and speculation. Soon after the phones turn on and we get just enough information about the pouffes, the movie quickly becomes a recognizable escape-the-aliens affair. But partly due to the nature of the pouffes, and mostly due to Jack and Su’s lack of traditional survival skills, all the usual tools (gun, ax, car) start to feel useless. In hindsight, every item Su and Jack bring to or find in the cabin (tiny bottles of soap, Jack’s sourdough starter, lots of notably perishable food items, and wine) ends up feeling like Chekhov’s gun as we wonder how they’re going to get out of this one. In the end—I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say—this particular catastrophe calls for some nontraditional survival tools.
When the real-life Grand Canyon rafters told their story to The New York Times, there was a significant “lucky you!” response from readers. “So, despite what my mother taught me, there is such a thing as blissful ignorance,” one commenter wrote. In Save Yourselves!, though, ignorance is anything but blissful. With poor cell service, the most critical thing Jack and Su are lacking is information. All they want is to check on their friends and family, piece together what’s going on, and maybe get directions to the nearest town. This was what I broadly took away from Save Yourselves!: you never know what kind of apocalypse you’re going to get or what you’re going to miss when things go to hell. It’s not really a comforting thought, but it’s one reason to watch disaster movies in a time with disasters aplenty. Maybe for an hour or two, it will make you glad that you are not living through that particular apocalypse.