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REVIEW – “Save Yourselves”: Self-Improvement in the Time of an Apocalypse

Millennial culture and the apocalypse needn’t mix so well. In our present reality, the disconnect couldn’t be fuzzier, where many are looking to leave better lives behind in the wake of the world crumbling down around them. Nothing could easily surpass the fast-paced charm of The World’s End, or the anarchic loudness of This is the End. What comes closest is what feels the most relevant to what many will consider the “now times”. Save Yourselves manages to accomplish that idea at an admirably small indie-movie budget. And more intimately than its closest comparative, as a young hipster couple attempt to remove the distractions plaguing their relationship, while the evolved world they leave hind faces an alien invasion off-camera.

Brooklynites Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) have all the love possible for a long-lasting relationship. But even they aren’t immune to making changes to strengthen what’s already a solid base. Cut out meat, be more daring in the kitchen, lean more on the extrovert side. And above all else, separate from their addiction to technology, at least in the short term.

Taking upon an offer by mutual friend Raph (Ben Sinclair), the pair settle on a road trip to a cabin in the deep woods. A week without phones, or computers, or voice recognition software. “Hey Siri, play Whitney Houston”, Jack says inside the cabin, to no effect. From there, they find newfound serenity in the natural world. Even that immunity doesn’t last long as Su and Jack eventually are pitted against one of the minimalist aliens, a hairball shaped “Pouffe”, with a brain-sucking tongue and a calm demeanor.

An apparent number of days pass before the pair finally check their phones, with frantic calls and texts from loved ones, and it is clear the danger biding its time in their proximity is somewhat inescapable. There must be a metaphor here, that yes, it’s more than OK to escape, to disconnect. But in the face of emergency, that’s when the need to check in is crucial. And there poses the idea of what authenticity means to an individual, what that includes. That shouldn’t necessarily mean being so reliant on technology, but it varies on the user.

That’s always been a balancing act many deal with, but not too often from a cinematic standpoint does that get its due. For first-time writer/directors Alex Fischer and Eleanor Wilson, the message they want to conceptualize is at least clear to carry across 90 minutes. But it’s not so much a cautionary tale as it is more the needed impetus of something more meaningful than just what not to do. The mere gimmickry and humor stretch far for its brisk runtime, plenty of rough chuckles here and there, running the risk of losing direction at points. The later third is the most victim, with too many zigzags in just where the plot is going, beneficial as they are in the name of character development.

Fischer and Wilson manage to get their act together exactly when they need to, when the somewhat subdued alien character looks to secure the upper hand on their suspects. How Su and Jack respond is where the film reaches its best sweet spot, both clearly inexperienced in any sort of backwoods adventure, taking an amateurish approach to simple survival skills. Were it any other people, their egos would crack. Our heroes here fight just that as they are an extra-terrestrial being they were ultimately unaware of. Reynolds and Mani absolutely slay here, provoking a warm genuineness making them more than merely stereotypical representations of the modern hipster culture. At their core, they are very confident individuals, but still admitting of their flaws. Jack balks on one of Su’s ideas, he apologizes off the mark before Su reels him back in, for example. Call it relationship therapy under extreme circumstances, with the intent not so much repair, more solidifying, and rolling with the punches.

Punctuated handsomely by Matt Clegg’s (Run with the Hunted) cinematographical edge, and Calder Greenwood’s eye for practical effects, the combination selling a nostalgic feel for those low-budget horror darlings of the past, Save Yourselves plays so well to its many genre strengths. The apocalyptic element sets the tone, while the mild rom-com buzz sends it aloft toward the stratosphere. The moments where it stumbles in execution, it makes up for in a few comical surprises, in themselves a hodge-podge that before long settles the character dynamics into a scary enough groove. The focus could be more precise off the bat, and the budget a little higher to supplement the hijinks Su and Jack are swept up in. But the innocent joy of a good romantic resolution, embracing the little things as they come while they can? That is why its sky-high course doesn’t waver, with just enough cautious optimism to fight the end of the world, quite possibly. (B+; 3.5/5 Horns Up!)

Save Yourselves is playing in select theaters this weekend, followed by VOD on October 6; rated R for language; 94 minutes.