Inside ‘Save Yourselves!’—a socially distant comedy for our times

October 1, 2020, 5:30 PM UTC

Imagine going on a remote vacation with your partner and purposely taking a break from technology, in an effort to better connect with each other, only to eventually realize that the planet is under attack from harmless looking but vicious alien creatures.

That’s what happens in the new comedy Save Yourselves!, which comes to select theaters Friday before its digital release next week. While the film eerily overlaps with aspects of the socially distant times we live in today, filmmaker Eleanor Wilson came up with the concept three years ago while in upstate New York with bad cell phone reception.

“I was just thinking about how paranoid I get when I’m disconnected from my phone, and this idea came [to me]—what if something bad actually did happen?” she tells Fortune.

The film was shot in 2019 and completed right before premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. “And then every other festival was canceled,” says Alex Huston Fischer, who cowrote and codirected Save Yourselves! with Wilson. “We were very lucky.”

The movie centers on Brooklyn couple Jack (John Reynolds, Search Party) and Su (Sunita Mani, GLOW). The filmmakers had written the script with Mani in mind (Wilson points out that Fischer went to college with her and has worked with her before) and were fans of Reynolds’s work in Search Party. For their part, the actors were also already friends via the New York comedy scene, Reynolds says.

“Knowing John was on board was the ultra-cherry on top,” says Mani. “I was super-excited to do this with him.”

And portraying this particular couple also came easily to them. “Knowing each other and having this shared sensibility even though it’s in this goofier bombastic comedy capacity, we just brought a shared language to Jack and Su,” says Mani. “It was just really easy to be real and natural.”

Save Yourselves
Sunita Mani (left) as Su and John Reynolds as Jack in “Save Yourselves!”
Courtesy of Bleecker Street

Fischer and Wilson wanted the movie to feel somewhat classic, incorporating elements of revered rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally as well as the “curiosity” and “mystery” reflected in earlier sci-fi and adventure films by the likes of Steven Spielberg.

The aliens in the film look like round shaggy balls—or “pouffes,” as they’re called by the characters. “What could possibly be in this cabin that they don’t realize is an alien?” says Wilson while addressing how they landed on the design. “We knew we didn’t want the aliens to have a face.”

“When you go into the history of furry aliens in pop culture, we’re in good company with Tribbles [from Star Trek] and Critters,” she adds.

The creative team used practical effects for the most part to bring the so-called pouffes to life on-screen, manipulating them in ways inspired by the facehuggers seen in Aliens.

“It was fun to see which practical and old-school movie effects they were going to bring on which day,” Reynolds says. “The pouffes do a lot—they fly and run and shoot their tongues and murder people. It was fun to see what sort of magnets they were going to use or how much slime was going to be on it.”

As far as the timing of their film’s release is concerned and its strange connection to what the world is experiencing today, Fischer says when they were first making it, they initially “thought that the movie was relevant, but a couple of decades off.

“One benefit we found is that everybody knows what a sourdough starter is now, so we don’t have to worry about people not getting that,” he adds in reference to one minor plot point.

The actors, meanwhile, find themselves relating to their characters more than they could have expected.

“I feel personally like my life’s starting to parallel Jack’s with making grocery lists and washing groceries and making go-bags and trying to be prepared,” Reynolds says. “I spent some time in a cabin this summer, and I was chopping wood while my girlfriend watched me struggle, and I was like, ‘My life is a joke.’”

“We are fighting for our lives in certain aspects socially and politically,” Mani adds. “But it’s also like we’re trapped in our homes making grocery lists at the same time. It’s so strange. It is so bizarre.”

SaveYourselves_BehindtheScenes
Clockwise from top left: Writer-directors Eleanor Wilson and Alex Huston Fischer, John Reynolds, and Sunita Mani on the set of “Save Yourselves!”
Pedro Vivas Hernandez—Bleecker Street

Without delving into spoilers, Save Yourselves! does conclude on something of an open-ended note, and the filmmakers acknowledge that different people may absorb the ending differently. The actors also find themselves going back and forth on whether the ending is positive or negative.

“I would encourage people to follow their heart in the moment,” says Reynolds of the ending.

“And get off your phone,” adds Mani, who echoes his “in the moment” sentiments. “Put your phone down.”

Save Yourselves! hits select theaters Oct. 2 before being released digitally Oct. 6.

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