How do you live your life after you’ve made a horrible mistake?
Brian Duffield’s new film explores that question in an unusual but beautiful manner as it oscillates between the sci-fi, horror, and silent film genres. On the outside, it’s an alien invasion story but inside, viewers will find something deeper than tired sci-fi tropes. The genre-bending story that Duffield weaves affords ample opportunity to ask deep questions about suffering, forgiveness, and acceptance. In a film with hardly any dialogue, the title lingers and provides a haunting, unspoken narration in every scene: No One Will Save You.
The ambitious, low-budget production became a surprise hit for Hulu and for a short time, was the most viewed film across all streaming platforms. This popularity speaks not only to its ambition and creativity but also to its meaningful meditation on redemptive themes.
Note: The following contains potential spoilers for No One Will Save You.
Alone and Isolated
Brynn (Kaityln Dever) is a young adult living by herself outside a small rural town. She sells handmade dresses online and mostly keeps to herself. The opening scenes show Brynn’s idyllic yet isolated life in her remote, historic home. But as she prepares for a trip into town, she becomes riddled with anxiety as she rehearses her interactions with the townspeople. Upon her arrival, she’s either ignored or downright ridiculed by the community.
As the film unfolds, we learn how Brynn has come to live alone and the reasons for her ostracization: Both her mother and her best friend have died, and the tragic loss of these figures in her life have left her isolated.
And then the aliens arrive.
The mystery of Brynn’s isolation is interrupted momentarily as her house is invaded one night by an alien figure. This tense night sees Brynn warily observe the alien roaming through her house while she tries to avoid detection. The alien eventually becomes aware of her presence and attempts to capture her. Brynn, however, narrowly escapes with her life and stabs the alien to death.
What transpires during the rest of the film is a cat-and-mouse, Die Hard-esque story of survival as Brynn looks for help, searches for answers, and defends herself from an alien invasion. Brynn soon discovers that many of the townspeople have become inhabited by the aliens, who now control the town and perhaps the entire world. But even as Brynn faces these evil external forces, she’s battling inner demons.
In one flashback, we see how her best friend died: a younger Brynn accidentally kills her in a fit of childish rage. In the aftermath, Brynn lives under house arrest as a teenager. After her mother dies, Brynn inherits the home and lives there in quiet regret as the town disdains her for what she’s done.
It’s impossible to become anything but sympathetic for Brynn as she deals with her inner turmoil while doing her best to fend off the alien invaders. Yet, no one can save Brynn from her past. And no one can save Brynn from the relentless alien attack.
A Hopeful and Stirring Ending (Sort Of)
Despite her best efforts, the aliens eventually capture Brynn and take her to one of their spaceships for study. During their probing, they somehow project her memories and witness the trauma that she’s experienced. Brynn is able to witness these memories as well and even enter into them as a bystander. In one touching scene, she interacts with her past self and offers compassion and forgiveness.
Surprisingly, the aliens are moved by Brynn’s story and release her. The film’s final scenes find Brynn awake in her restored house. As she explores the town, the citizens now greet her warmly and accept her as one of their own. Brynn, however, doesn’t seem to notice—or care—that the townspeople are still not themselves. They are still inhabited and controlled by the aliens, and as the camera zooms out of Brynn’s fairy tale ending, we see flying saucers hovering over every corner of the Earth.
Regarding the film’s twist ending, Duffield says this: “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.” So what does Brynn find in the end? She finds self-forgiveness. She also finds welcome and acceptance from the very people who disdained her, a poignant and redemptive ending that nevertheless left me yearning for more.
There is real catharsis in self-forgiveness and we must not undermine its power. Yet, self-forgiveness is only a taste of a much larger forgiveness that we long for and yet cannot bestow upon ourselves. And like Brynn, we all desire to be seen, known, and loved. We all desire welcome and acceptance, which Brynn finally experiences in the last scene.
Our desire for acceptance is ultimately a desire to be declared righteous. Tim Keller frames righteousness this way: “I have passed inspection in the eyes of a significant other; I have been found pleasing to someone I want to please.” At the film’s end, Brynn is given what her heart so desperately desires: she is found pleasing in the eyes of the community that once disdained her. She has passed their inspection and is welcomed in.
No One Will Save You portrays acceptance as something so immense that it must be given, not obtained. Only something transcendent can give Brynn the approval she so desperately yearned for. In the end, no one could save Brynn from herself. And no one could save Brynn from the aliens. The aliens instead become that transcendent power that’s able to provide the forgiveness and acceptance she so deeply desired.
That’s why I found the film’s ending so provocative. Like Brynn, I deeply desire that sort of forgiveness and acceptance even as I understand that I’m powerless to bring it about by my own strength. No amount of self-forgiveness or community recognition can secure it. No one can save me. Saving must come from above and beyond.
As Christians, we know that this saving transcendent power is not a force (or an alien) but rather, a person. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, descended to Earth. He takes on our iniquities and heals our wounds (Isaiah 53:5). Through our repentance and trust, he gives us what we don’t deserve: He welcomes us eternally as a child, a sibling, and a friend in his kingdom. I can not save myself. No human being can save me. Only Jesus saves (Acts 4:12).
Of course, the community that now accepts Brynn at the end of No One Will Save You is no better than the community that rejected her. It’s a fake community on account of the alien possession, and so is its acceptance. Yet because she wants so badly for it to be real, Brynn refuses to see the truth. However, she’s so thirsty for righteousness that she’ll gladly drink from a counterfeit pool.
The film’s title holds true for the entire film. In the end, no one saves Brynn; she just happens to stumble into a blissful, low-stakes absolution. Thankfully, the gospel tells a better story. The glorious rumors of redemption, forgiveness, and scandalous acceptance are objective invitations. While the satisfaction of these longings seems elusive, they can be realized by something greater than happy accidents and counterfeit acceptance.
No One Will Save You is not meant to be an exposition of the gospel. Even so, I was drawn to its secular search for redemption even as its conclusion falls short of any sacred definition of the term. Duffield’s film certainly stands on its own as a grand piece of pop sci-fi art, yet the deeper questions that it asks and answers—albeit incompletely—make it a film worth watching and reflecting upon.