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Kaitlyn Dever as Brynn Adams taking refuge behind an ornate staircase in NO ONE WILL SAVE YOU Photo: Sam Lothridge/20th Century Studios

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No One Will Save You director left his alien thriller open to interpretation, but without ‘cheaty stuff’

Groot, Minority Report, and Contact all helped Brian Duffield clarify his mystery box

Tasha Robinson leads Polygon’s movie coverage. She’s covered film, TV, books, and more for 20 years, including at The A.V. Club, The Dissolve, and The Verge.

Hulu’s original science fiction movie No One Will Save You is an effective, creepy, and at times repulsive thriller, but it’s also openly positioned as a discussion-starter. Isolated small-town loner Brynn (Booksmart star ​​Kaitlyn Dever) encounters aliens, which she alternately fights and flees. Her situation keeps changing in ways that are sometimes hard to interpret, especially since there’s virtually no intelligible dialogue in the entire movie.

The aliens speak their own language, while Brynn, alone, rarely talks. There’s no one for her to compare notes with, or explain her experiences to. She wears her emotions on her face, and it’s easy to tell what she’s feeling. But how to tell whether the events that provoke those feelings are actually happening?

That’s certainly something writer-director Brian Duffield thought about extensively when developing the movie. He compares it to the Steven Spielberg movie Minority Report, in which Tom Cruise’s character is arrested, on evidence provided by precognitives, for a crime that hasn’t been committed yet. At one point in the film, he’s imprisoned in a future-tech stasis system.

“Everything after Tom Cruise goes in the cryo chamber, there’s that debate of Does this actually happen, or is the rest of the movie the sweetest dreams he’s ever experienced, like Tim Blake Nelson says?” Duffield tells Polygon. Much like another Philip K. Dick-derived movie, Total Recall, Minority Report can be taken entirely at face value — but it’s also possible to interpret part of the movie as a dream. The same goes for No One Will Save You as well, depending on how you look at certain events.

“There are definitely elements that aren’t spelled out,” Duffield says. “But I also wanted to do all the work. If you really watch the movie, everything is there. I didn’t want to do any cheaty stuff, where there’s no math you’re able to do to get to what I really want people to take away.”

Part of “playing fair,” as Duffield puts it, is using Brynn herself to signal what’s real and what isn’t. “I really love Brynn as a character, and I think she’s really aware of when things are not real in the movie, and usually has a negative reaction to that,” he says. “For me, that’s part of the puzzlebox. Brynn makes a definite choice at one point in the movie to be in the real world, even if it’s terrible. And I think the movie respects that choice.”

Duffield says he was invested in starting Minority Report-style interpretation discussions, but he didn’t want to err on the side of confusing or baffling viewers. He believes “there’s a really fine line between ambiguous and annoying” and from the position of being a filmmaker, it’s almost impossible to know how viewers will fall on either side of the line.

Kaitlyn Dever as Brynn Adams hides from a wooden joint doll in No One Will Save You Photo: Sam Lothridge/20th Century Studios

Part of what winds up being subjective about the movie is the aliens’ incomprehensible dialogue, which makes their intentions harder to follow. “We don’t have subtitles on our aliens, so there’s some open interpretation to a lot of that,” Duffield says. “But I have a very definite This is what is happening going on throughout the thing. And then my crew and Kaitlyn, everyone knew that plan. That gave us a really great place to build from.”

“If there are interpretations, great, but I never want to be cheeky, like, [bratty, mocking voice] I’m not gonna say. [Laughs] If people think something that’s not what I intended, that’s great, because it’s everyone’s movie now. But I wanted to play fair with them, too.”

There’s an unlikely comparison to be drawn between No One Will Save You and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movies, where most of the dialogue from alien tree-character Groot is rendered simply as “I am Groot.” Gunn has said that every one of Groot’s lines has an English meaning, and he’s occasionally shared what those are. He’s also said that select cast members whose characters understand Groot’s “language” were given scripts with his dialogue rendered in English. Similarly, Duffield says he and his crew know exactly what the aliens are saying in every scene.

But unlike Gunn, Duffield doesn’t think he’ll ever reveal that information publicly. “What’s cool about Guardians is — they did such a cool thing in Guardians 3. Peter Quill understands what Groot is saying, and the audience doesn’t. Gamora spends the movie being like, What is this tree saying? And then at the end, she understands him, and the audience does, too. I think the fact that Brynn never understands the aliens means it would be a bit of a cheat for the audience to learn more than she does.

“Rocket and Quill know what Groot is saying all the time, but Brynn is baffled. She has no idea. But she’s recognizing that they’re saying the same thing to her a couple of different times. You can play with that and try to understand what they were saying all these different times to her? But I don’t think I’ll do a subtitle version.”

An alien foot approaches the bed of Brynn in No One WIll Save You Image: 20th Century Studios

The end of the movie might seem ambiguous as well, but Duffield says he hopes it isn’t. “I hope I’ve done a decent enough job that it feels fair. I want to leave people knowing that when they see Brynn for the last time in the movie, that Brynn is genuine. That was something Kaitlyn and I talked about a lot, was that everything Brynn experiences is a genuine experience. Her emotion is a genuine experience of that. So whether things are [real], no matter what, everything with Brynn is very, very real to her, and to her arc and her character and her journey.”

Duffield says the things that aren’t real in No One Will Save You have a definite entry point. “I think you know exactly when those things happen, and you know when those moments end. Those scenes can be a little bit more amorphous and within her mind, but again, I’m trying to play fair. If there isn’t a clear ‘press play’ moment, I think taking scenes as genuine is the best course of action.”

Beyond that, he says, he’s fine with viewers coming up with their own interpretations of the aliens’ intentions, dialogue, and behavior. “I think that’s okay. Because some of those things, Brynn doesn’t know. And that is part of the nightmare of the movie, is that she can’t communicate with the aliens, even though they are talking at her quite a lot.” Sometimes, Duffield says, that barrier to communication is harmful to her, but arguably, there’s a point in the movie where it actually benefits her.

“I love Contact, the Jodie Foster movie. But Brynn doesn’t get that scene on the beach, where someone’s like, This is [what’s going on]. She doesn’t get that. She doesn’t know what’s happening for most of the movie, too. So I think it’s okay for the audience to not know what Brynn doesn’t know. Hopefully that’s a fun puzzle box for people to play with and argue about. But for us, [what was going on] is very specific. The sound guys knew what the aliens were saying every time they were talking. I wanted to play fair, but at same time, I wanted Reddit to have fun.”

Ultimately, Duffield says, there’s no wrong way to interpret the movie. “I dig that people have those conversations and journeys,” he says. “And I’m open to being wrong about my movie. I’m happy if everyone’s like, You’re an idiot, this is what actually happens. It’s everyone’s movie now. That’s part of sending the kid off to college — what are you gonna do?”

No One Will Save You is now streaming exclusively on Hulu.