[The following story contains spoilers for No One Will Save You.]
During an uneventful weekend at the domestic box office, Brian Duffield’s alien invasion thriller No One Will Save You became the talk of social media. The Hulu release, which features virtually no dialogue, is another critical win for Duffield following his critically acclaimed directorial debut, Spontaneous, and it’s even received Guillermo Del Toro and Stephen King‘s stamps of approval.
The Kaitlyn Dever-led sci-fi film begins with the high concept of an alien home invasion, but eventually widens its scope into something more affecting on a character level. Dever’s Brynn Adams accidentally killed her 12-year-old best friend a decade earlier, and her small-town community of Mill River has turned her into persona non grata ever since, resulting in a life of alienation inside her late mother’s home.
To pass the time, Brynn makes dresses, builds idyllic dioramas of Mill River, cooks, dances and writes letters of regret to her deceased friend, Maude. When an alien invasion comes to town, Brynn gives an alien explorer more than it bargained for, and similar to Maude, she kills it in accidental fashion. This leads to more aliens taking an interest in Brynn, until they later abduct her into one of their UFOs and uncover her tragic memories.
Recognizing her remorse and personal struggle to forgive herself, the aliens free Brynn and give her the second chance that her fellow Mill River residents refused to do. At the very end, she dances in the Mill River streets with alien-possessed humans, some of whom once rejected her, as her own diorama has seemingly come to life. The world may be overrun by this gray alien species, but Brynn is now living the best life she can.
Ultimately, the title of No One Will Save You says so much about the point of the entire exercise, in that Brynn had to save herself and, most importantly, forgive herself.
“She finally gets something that she didn’t think she would ever deserve, and I like the idea that this kid who has gone through so much had a really happy ending, as strange as it may be,” Duffield tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I love horror movies that have a real slap-in-your-face ending, but I liked Brynn too much to slap her in the face.”
Below, during the spoiler half of a two-part conversation with THR, Duffield also discusses the global implications of this alien invasion and whether there are more exceptions like Brynn.
Brynn has been living this siloed existence that consists of dressmaking, diorama building, cooking, dancing and letter writing, and we come to find out that she’s been alienated by her community because she accidentally killed her best friend Maude a decade earlier. Assuming she didn’t do hard time as a 12-year-old, do you imagine that her now-late mother kept her busy with all those activities during a prolonged house arrest?
We had the idea that she went away to a juvie-type place. It was scripted, and honestly, we didn’t wind up shooting it because of weather, if I remember correctly. It was a combination of weather, exterior days and the question of whether it was too much for the audience to see all these glimpses. It would have been a part of that alien-pulled flashback.
There were a couple cases involving similar things that happened with young people, and I was probably unhealthily fixated on that. It was different from a school shooter, which is so bleak and awful. And then there were cases like the two girls involved in the  Slender Man stabbing, where it felt like you were dealing with adolescents who made abhorrent mistakes. So how do you live the rest of your life after that? Heavenly Creatures is one of my favorite movies, and having done a deep dive on that movie, I found out that one of the girls changed her name [Juliet Hulme] and became a fairly successful author [Anne Perry] until that was uncovered about her.
There was just something so sad and lonely about a young girl that was barely even in her teens and had her whole life decided in that one moment, and so that felt like a very interesting character. Now, she’s alone in her mother’s house, but she didn’t really have an adolescence. She genuinely loves what she loves. Kaitlyn [Dever] and I talked a lot about how Brynn is a 10-year-old’s idea of what a 30-year-old is, and part of that comes from her mom having a vintage aesthetic. Ramsey Avery, our production designer, was a huge part of this, too.
So Brynn missed out on her teen years, and she isn’t going to get her “Rumspringa,” where she goes off and sows her wild oats. She’s never going to get that experience, and she’s too scared to even go grocery shopping. So it was interesting to have a character who had done a lot of healing in the last ten years. She had built this perfect little bubble for herself that was a little phony and a little idealized, but for her, it was as good as it was going to get. She was just trying to make the most of that.
And when I had the idea to put an alien invasion on top of that and her microscopic world is destroyed, it felt like an interesting way to talk about that character through a lens that you would never expect.
So an alien invades her home, and like her friend Maude, she accidentally kills it. This leads to more aliens arriving on her doorstep, and we see that the aliens take a keen interest in her childhood photos with Maude. Are they just trying to get a read on who we are as a species?
That was something we talked about from the get-go. We really wanted the aliens, the Grays in particular, to come across as very intelligent but also very alien. In that initial alien encounter, it has its checklist of what to do at the house that night, and Brynn might be the eighth thing on the list. And things as simple as learning what a refrigerator is might be number three. So its priorities would be different and skew differently because they so outmatch us.
With the photos and everything, it partially came out of wanting to give the audience the tools to start putting these pieces together, but for the aliens, it was very surprising that this person, of all people, was becoming such a nuisance. She’s the unlikeliest in a lot of ways. So, a lot of that first night was the alien figuring out, “Are there other people in the house? Are there other things we’re not prepared for? “ And so it starts from there and then grows into a curiosity and an interest in Brynn, and as a filmmaker, that allows us to talk about her and the stuff she’s been through.
Also, if you have this hyper-intelligent species that is curious about us, then they’re not just coming to wipe the slate clean. There is a real curiosity about Brynn, and as they start to figure things out about her, they kind of want to know what happens next in her story. (Laughs.) And so it was fun to just play with them as a species of explorers. This girl puts up such a fight, and if you saw an animal do something bizarre and strange, it would make you go, “Oh, I didn’t know elephants could do that kind of thing.” It’s a “I want to see the next YouTube video about that” kind of quality. So the aliens want to figure her out in that way, and hopefully the audience does as well.
Brynn is eventually abducted into a UFO, and during a study, she’s forced to relive her traumatic memories before finally forgiving herself. Do the aliens ultimately free her because they can sense the genuine remorse she feels for both Maude and maybe even the original alien she killed?
Yeah, not to put too fine a point on it, but it was a real fine line to walk. You don’t want the closeup of the alien with a tear going down its cheek where it really feels that and understands. What’s fun about them is that you don’t understand and she doesn’t understand why, necessarily, which I know can be frustrating for some. It is so bizarre what happens in the third act, but she does have that moment of being able to literally hold her hand. And after that happens, she’s good to go. There’s a real weight off of her shoulders.
And then everything else that happens is not necessarily what she would’ve expected or what the audience might’ve expected, but she’s not Tom Cruise. There’s never a world in which she’s launching the nukes. And if anything, she and the aliens have a lot in common, and they can benefit each other a lot.
A lot of the ending stemmed from the idea that Brynn has spent all this time making her own world in a similar fashion to the aliens, and there is a little bit of a conversation to be had amongst these aliens that are now driving our bodies around, as it were. It felt like there was a little bit of a tongue in cheek, and everything that she had done in the first 10 minutes of the movie could be beneficial. I didn’t want the aliens to be too empathetic, but I also think they understood that Brynn was a worthy adversary that doesn’t have to be an adversary.
In the end, she dances in the streets of this idyllic town she envisioned through her diorama, and she’d rather be among alien-possessed humans than who those humans used to be. The aliens gave her a second chance unlike everybody else. Should we all be a little more compassionate towards those who show genuine regret?
It wouldn’t hurt, for sure. It was also really important that the people who have a very valid reason to be upset with Brynn were not in the finale. Brynn understands that she’s essentially ruined people’s lives, and that’s not the vibe of the ending either. You don’t see a possessed Collins family in that ending, and it would’ve been too much legwork and too ambitious to sneak them away and make sure they were okay.
I like the idea that this is a global thing, but there’s a lot of people like Brynn. I don’t know that she’s the only one out of seven billion people to still be themselves and be okay, but I like the idea that she is as far as she knows. She finally gets something that she didn’t think she would ever deserve, and I like the idea that this kid who has gone through so much had a really happy ending, as strange as it may be.
I love horror movies that have a real slap-in-your-face ending, but I liked Brynn too much to slap her in the face. She gets her ass kicked a lot, too, but a lot of why I wanted to make the movie was to have that ending. Even when I didn’t know what that ending was, I knew I didn’t want to kick some poor girl’s ass for 90 minutes and then put a slug in her mouth, permanently.
To me, the key theme is self-forgiveness. Brynn finally forgave herself instead of waiting for those magic words to come from other people. Only she could save her.
Yeah, the title is a very specific title that works in a couple of different ways. But one of the fun things about not having a ton of dialogue is that the title becomes dialogue in a way. Whether it’s from the aliens to Brynn or Brynn to herself, every character in the movie can say that line and it means something different every time.
No One Will Save You is now streaming on Hulu. This interview was edited for length and clarity.