Extraterrestrial horror isn't uncommon, exactly, but good extraterrestrial horror is a lot harder to come by, which may explain why Brian Duffield's No One Will Save You has created such a stir since its arrival on Hulu last weekend. Critics swooned over this lean, mean little thriller (it's sitting at an 82% on Rotten Tomatoes), while horror luminaries such as Stephen King and Guillermo del Toro have taken to social media to sing the film's praises. We might not be able to measure the film's success in box office receipts, but by every other metric No One Will Save You seems to be a hit.
Recently, I had the chance to sit down with Duffield to discuss his latest directorial effort (his previous feature, Spontaneous, is also well worth seeking out), and was keen to dig into some of the more spoilery aspects of the film. Now that everyone's had a full week to catch up with No One Will Save You, it's time to share the results of that conversation with the rest of you.
FANGORIA: Grey aliens are the most popular, universally-recognized forms of extraterrestrial life in pop culture. But for whatever reason, Hollywood has largely avoided using them onscreen, and especially not in a mean-spirited, aggressive sort of way. Why do you think that is?
Brian Duffield: I think there's a bunch of reasons. For one thing, I think there's probably an element of "Man in Suit," or feeling like you're in that B-movie world, as opposed to adopting a design that could really show off fancy visual effects. A Grey is much simpler than [the aliens in] District 9, or something that just has a lot of bells and whistles. So I figure that's part of it.
I also think that [Greys] became so iconic as the face of alien life that everyone just really wanted to be the person to do something different. There's a desire from filmmakers to want to make something iconic, to get to add your character to the list of greats. And so the Grey isn't adding anything new to the canon; you're only playing the biggest hit. That's probably part of it, too.
But I think what's fun about them is that [the design] stems from reality. Movies didn't come up with the Grey first, and I think that's really interesting and exciting and rare, obviously, in terms of monster designs. So, I think there's probably this desire to do something new, but at the same time I felt like, "This is iconic because people thought this was real," and maybe it was.
The simplicity of the "Grey design," for lack of a better term, is what makes them so memorable.
For sure. It's like the cross. Actually, I shouldn't say that; it's probably blasphemous. But it's like, you see a cross anywhere and you think, "That's Christianity."
My daughter is four, and I'm sure if I asked her to draw an alien, she could get pretty close to that image. Which is true of the best monsters, stuff where you're like: "Silhouette. Done." And especially on this movie, I wanted something where you see the tiniest bit of it and you're like, "Okay, it's a Grey. It's not the boogeyman, it's not any of these other things." You see it and think, "Oh, I know exactly what that is."
And then you do an interesting thing, where the classic Grey shows up, but then over the next 90 minutes you get several different versions of it. You get the ... there's like ... I'm assuming you had terms for all of them. What'd you call the second one, who's kind of stumpy?
It was the Grey, the Little Fucker, the Daddy Long Legs, and then the Parasite. That was the shorthand written into the script, and also on set. As in, "Alright, bring out the Little Fucker."
Let's explore this for a minute. I'm curious what the thinking was in introducing the classic Grey, but then also having these alternate versions. Is that you trying to bridge the gap between a classic Grey design and something new, or a bit more unique?
It was first knowing that we were going to intro [the classic Grey] immediately, and then shortly thereafter kill him, and then have an hour left to go. You don't want the audience to get too comfortable with the idea of, "Well, she killed one, she could probably do it again." So there's a little bit of that going on there.
But then also, I really liked the idea that these guys aren't male or female. It's not like they come to earth and [it all breaks down] the same. I like that they have more of a tiered system. I don't think it's gender-specific, either, but that it's a multi-species situation with different types [of alien] all living in a harmonious way. Not like humans and pets, but just kind of like: you have the Grey, you have the Little Fuckers, you have the Daddy Long Legs, and each has their own very specific role in the society that you'll never see.
Is the Daddy Long Legs the most powerful because it has the most appendages?
Well, I think of the Greys as the decision makers. The Daddy was more like a priest. You'll notice the UFOs don't really do anything without talking to Daddy first. So he's kind of like the flight controller.
And when we meet Daddy in the backyard for the first time, he's kind of ambling along like, "Doop-de-doo." You could talk about him being a kind old priest, so he's a little goofy and he's kinda doing these little jokes. And then the sound guys came up with this thing - and I don't know how many people will pick it up - but [the Daddy Long Legs] has a little musical thing he does, like this [Duffield makes alien singing noises], and he's singing back to Kaitlyn the song that she dances to earlier in the movie.
Oh, no shit?
Yeah, because he was probably outside and [heard the song] and thought, "Hey, that's kind of catchy!" So, by singing he's like, "Hey, you remember this song?" A couple of times in the movie you hear, in the distance, him doing that and it's really creepy. He recognizes [Kaitlyn Dever's Brynn] as "the song girl," and then he's so excited! They traveled however many thousands of light years to get here, and he's like, "Okay, we're finally doing our big religious colonization. I'm so excited to be doing this with you! It's so great!" But then Kaitlyn messes it up and embarrasses him.
This is all dorky nerd shit, but my thought process was, "Let's have it feel like there is a culture to these [aliens], that we do feel like there is an intelligence and a reasoning and a faith." Beyond all that, they just serve as different threats to Kaitlyn.
I think it's interesting that you keep calling the Daddy Long Legs a priest, which obviously invokes religion, and now we're talking about faith. I'm curious, why a priest? That carries a certain connotation that "flight controller," which you previously mentioned, does not.
I think a number of times in human history, colonization has happened in the name of God and it's been bad. But it's never, "We're just assholes," it's always, "We're assholes, but God wants us to do this!" I liked the idea of the aliens having that equivalent.
What I told the visual effects guys was, "Okay, these [aliens] are very religious, but their God is real. Unequivocally, they're just like, 'Well, there's God. We talk to God. God is telling us to go do this thing.'" I wanted it to feel like there is a real motivation beyond "We're monsters."
Like, when the Grey is in the red room and possessing Kaitlyn, even then he's not that monster-y. He's talking to her and he's very calm and he kind of performs [this maneuver], and then after he expels the parasite there's this nice sense of relief. That's me wanting you to feel like there's this methodology and weird faith that they have. I just didn't feel like I'd ever seen that.
No One Will Save You is, more less, dialogue-free. Walk me through your thinking on that creative choice.
I wasn't thinking about doing that for a long time, and then realized that I had inadvertently done it. Originally, when I was writing the script for the first time, I think the alien showed up even earlier, and I liked this idea of three or four pages of this quirky girl going through her day, and then, boom, there's the alien. So even the little dance montage she has at the start, I was like, "That's the start, and then an alien walks in..." And then I expanded that as I was writing, but initially it was just very brutal and quick.
So, then the alien shows up and there's no reason for her to talk. I also had the scene with the police chief and his wife in mind, and knew what would happen when she got there. And when I [got to that scene] I was like, "Oh, I haven't [written any dialogue yet.]" I think I typed "Brynn" into Final Draft and figured she'd kind of get an "I" out before getting spit on. But in Final Draft, it usually pops up if you've written the name before as a character that speaks, and that hadn't happened [in the writing process yet], and that's when I realized, "Oh, fuck, she hasn't talked." I was 40 pages in at that point, and I knew she was about to head back home and be alone again, so...
"If I've come this far, why not see this thing through?"
Yeah, but also, part of it was knowing I didn't want her to do the thing where she walks past a TV where the news is saying, "There were mysterious lights in the area...", or whatever. I also knew that [none of the other human characters] would talk to her, so there goes that exposition. She couldn't go to anyone else and be like, "What the fuck is going on?"
Originally, I did have a little [dialogue] in the opening. We shot a little bit with her G-chatting with a guy under a pseudonym, and the guy's like, "Should we ever meet up?" And she blocks him immediately. But even that was like, "Oh, that feels like it's a little too much of a relationship."
And you needed the character to be so solitary.
Yeah, and she also thinks this is what she deserves in her life, and has decided to just try to make the most of it. It felt like an interesting way to do that would be to have this girl that didn't have anyone to talk to, and not in the I Am Legend kind of way, or through a "Wilson," like in Cast Away. She hasn't lost her mind, she's just lonely but thinks this is what is fair, for her and the sins she feels she's committed.
So, yeah, it felt like an interesting way to do it, but when we were going out with the script and Kaitlyn was attached, there were definitely places that were like, "If people are doing their laundry, they're going to get lost immediately." So I'm excited that Hulu looked at it as, "It's going to make people pay attention."
Did Kaitlyn ever bristle over the lack of dialogue? Was there ever a point where she said, "Man, I wish I could just say this right now" to communicate something?
When I hired her, I said, "If you ever want to talk, you can talk, if in the moment you need to." But she was kind of like, "I'm not going to need to talk." She's such a pro. She was also losing her voice the whole movie, because she's shrieking and screaming and it's so physical, and she's so loud for a lot of it, that I think [it didn't hurt not to have lines].
Y'know, every now and again, she would have a scene with another actor, and that was honestly more jarring than the dialogue thing. Suddenly it was like, "Oh, yeah! I act with people sometimes!" I think the first couple of weeks we had no other actors, so when we had an actor show up for a scene it suddenly felt very different. The whole crew was like, "Oh yeah, this is weird." Like, "We have to shoot two people."
Her not speaking also plays into the ending a bit. She's incapable of communicating with the aliens, at least in the same way that humans do.
I think she's not articulating with them, but I think they're definitely communicating.
Elaborate on that, if you don't mind.
I don't think they're speaking human yet, but there's a version of the ending where you can imagine that she's the cute schoolteacher that's teaching them "A, B..." That felt like a bridge too far, but I do like the idea that they're eager to learn from her in that version of the ending, and that they're eager to spend time with her. It's like, sometimes you just want to be quiet with somebody, y'know? I think having these people, they're acting very different towards her at the end than they were throughout the movie, and that must be really nice. That was what I wanted for her.
And I could have had dialogue at the end, but it also felt like it'd be a little bit of a bummer if everyone's just chatting, if she were just talking to everybody. But again, in terms of the character payoff, it did feel like there needed to be something communal happening at the end.
Speaking of which: the ending of this movie is, I think, going to be a bigger, more complicated pill for some audiences to swallow than the lack of dialogue.
Oh, for sure.
So, for anyone who doesn't understand the ending or doesn't understand why the aliens went from hunting her this entire time to now cohabitating with her, essentially: what do you say to those people? And are we meant to believe that the rest of the world has been taken over, or is this a local thing, happening only in this town?
No, I think the assumption should be that it's a widespread invasion. I mean, in that last shot, the aliens are just openly hovering in the sky. They're not trying to be cute about it!
And as for the ending: for me, it was about Kaitlyn's character and, I guess, two things. One, it was wanting her to wind up somewhere better at the end of the movie than at the start, because even before the movie she has gone through quite a bit. And then during the movie, she's gone through [even more]. And, y'know, I just really like this kid, especially because I felt like she had already been paying [for her sins]. She knows it, too. Even when she gets spit on, there's no outrage. She's just kind of like, "Well, this is what I deserve. I'm going to take it and accept it. I'm so sorry that I'm alive in front of you." By the end of the movie, I wanted her to come out the other side in a better situation.
And then on top of that, I think that the aliens ... well, let me put it like this: if you get bit by a stray dog, a lot of people would want to see the dog put down, but you'd also have people that would want to sit with the dog and calm it down and talk to it, to see if maybe the dog can be rehabilitated and become a valuable member of society. I think that is, partially, how the aliens were viewing us.
And so, anything that someone did that hurt an alien, I think they viewed as something of an occupational, "We're at war" kind of thing, collateral damage, even if the war is one day long. They're pleasantly surprised by [Brynn], and they're really interested in people, in a anthropological way. They're like, "This is a very interesting culture, and we've conquered it, but that doesn't mean we have to erase it!" Culture is art and life, and I think about how we had the Daddy Long Legs singing [Brynn's] song. He's probably thinking, "We don't have music like this," and the aliens are like, "Ooh, this is interesting!"
In my heart, I think there's probably other [Brynns] scattered around around the world, and I liked the idea of [aliens] being like, "We're here. We've won. And hey, you're kind of into it? Teach us. What can we learn?"
Y'know, I think a lot of the alien movies I love are the ones where they're not linear. Like, I love Under The Skin, which feels very alien to me, but there's clearly a methodology and plan in place [among the aliens in that movie]. Obviously, that movie's a lot more arthouse than this one is, but I wanted that same feeling of, "These are fucking aliens. They don't have to think like us, and we don't have to understand." Typically that means a very negative thing, that we can't understand what they're doing. But I like the flip of that coin where it's like: "I don't understand this ... but it could be a lot worse."