Somewhere out there there’s surely science-fiction literature about humans whose cellphones have merged with the very flesh of their hands into one big Google claw. Most of us are almost there already, and that goes for the hapless heroes of Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson’s engaging science-fiction comedy Save Yourselves! Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Reynolds) are the most typical of typical 30-ish Brooklynites whose phones and laptops are always at the ready to fulfill even their most meager whims. In the movie’s opening scene, they fight: Jack has not only used Su’s work laptop to find a sourdough recipe; he has closed all of Su’s tabs. After a round of bickering, the duo kiss and make up and almost have sex, until cellphone interruptus wrecks their fun. Then the two slump in front of their respective devices, each tuned in to something that is most definitely not the other.
Then a friend offers the use of an upstate cabin for a getaway. Unplugging for a week just might change their lives. So after a few days of preparation—Su takes pride in the fact that she has copied some essential research into her journal by hand instead of printing it out—the two head out of town to have a go at living the simple life. They’re armed with the essentials, including wine, quinoa and some nice cuts of lamb. Though both are tempted to look at their phones, they—mostly—don’t. What they don’t know is that the Earth is under attack by aliens, which is exactly the thing that’s bound to happen when you put your cellphone away for a few days.
The trick that makes Save Yourselves! work is that Jack and Su are unbearable but not unlikeable. Su looks forward to the couple’s week away with dreamy anticipation: “I wanna be vegetarian again!” The friend who has loaned them the cabin has given Jack a crystal—“Oh my God, it’s a rock!” he exclaims at first, before Su explains what it really is—that he’s begun keeping in his pocket just because he likes it. At first, their country life seems idyllic: They take a hike on the first day and find a lookout point with a majestic view. But before long, Su starts needling Jack: She wants him to show her his truest, most honest self, and he doesn’t know how to deliver. She cries out in frustration, “I need to achieve something this week!” (Because she arranged this getaway rather hastily with her boss, she has lost her job, which only magnifies her expectations.) And when they do discover the alien threat, they realize they might have to—shudder—actually learn to use a gun.
In the end, they make do with a hatchet and another secret ingredient located in their getaway stash. Save Yourselves! is Fischer and Wilson’s debut feature (they’re also partners in real life), and while it’s largely about our love-hate relationship with technology, it doesn’t come down squarely on the side of pure, face-to-face interaction. We need technology, if only to keep apprised of alien invasions and the like, but we do have trouble knowing how much is too much. Both Su and Jack are looking for some transformation of the self, some deeper insight into life and the world that can’t be found on Instagram.
The yearning is real, and something many of us may have been feeling especially in a time when our phones and computers provide our chief connection with other people. Save Yourselves! was completed well before the pandemic hit—it played at Sundance in January—but it’s one of those works that has magically landed at the right time. It takes itself just seriously enough, but not too seriously. The aliens themselves are a clever, low-tech invention: They look like overgrown Tribbles, though they have several nefarious tricks up their nonexistent sleeves. There’s nothing cuddly about them. And the movie’s ending is ambiguous tilting slightly toward optimistic, accompanied by some ethereal, almost celestial imagery. To watch it in a theater, with other real, live people would be ideal. But it’s also suitable for watching in that rural cabin you’ve escaped to—providing it has wi-fi.