By Elias Savada.
Well-crafted even for its seemingly lowish budget, the movie is a doozy of a down-to-earth apocalypse farce.”
For American filmmaker Alex H. Fischer, the road from avant-garde short films to arthouse feature stretches but four years, although his commercial and music video work dates back at least a decade. For the few folks who have journeyed into his offbeat, kooky world via the 40-minute short Snowy Bing Bongs Across the North Star Combat Zone (10,000+ YouTube views; click on the link for a brain-scattering laugh), which he made with Rachel Wolther, that film’s comedy and whimsy have survived as part of Fischer’s upward professional transition. Snowy Bing Bongs…, based on the comedy web series featuring the Cocoon Central Dance Team, tends toward otherworldly experiences, featuring occasionally flatulent actors in disintegrating polar-bear suits (I think) playing with beach balls in the snow, while performing some very weird, and quite funny, choreography. It’s an array of sketch pieces with snippets of quirky animation, baby planets, and some extended, absurdist (and lightly noirish) black-and-white fourth-wall breakage. You might spot an homage or two in his feature debut Save Yourselves!, which plays off society’s obsession with the internet. And an alien invasion.
Meanwhile, his girlfriend, Australian Eleanor Wilson, who shares writing and directing on this earthy, escapist, indie scifi effort, has an award-winning career that has been forging forward with numerous short films over the last dozen years, assisted by a few sidebar acting and producing gigs. Like Fischer, Save Yourselves! is her inaugural feature. Two of her shorts, Everything All at Once and Low Road reflect on some female turmoil (and issues with cell phones), similar to the ones affecting the central character in Save Yourselves!, albeit she’s now painting grief with broad comedic strokes.
And then there’s Sunita Mani, the comedian-actor-dancer portraying one of those bing bongs (she also plays an actor with an unpronounceable, and unspellable, name) who has bemused Fischer enough – you can also spot her briefly in his Stars music video ten years ago – that she is now the new film’s co-star (in her first leading role), with John Reynolds, as clueless millennials cast adrift without their technology in the Upstate New York wilderness. FYI, it was shot in Ulster County. Mani, best known to small screen viewers as Arthie Premkumar on Glow and Trenton in Mr. Robot, actually had the film written for her by the writer-directors. Fits like a glove.
Well-crafted even for its seemingly lowish budget, the movie is a doozy of a down-to-earth apocalypse farce. Set in “the year humankind lost planet Earth,” the actors portray thirty-somethings Su and Jack, a Brooklyn couple who decide to disconnect from their internet needs and obsessions in order to discover each other. No cell phones. No laptops. No Alexa. No Siri.
Alas, at that exact moment, the planet is invaded by furry little extra-terrestrial pouffes (very much modelled after Star Trek‘s sweet Tribbles, and possibly as reproductive) – as adorable as any kid’s stuffed animal toy, but quite deadly with their long, sticky tongues. The beasties have other otherworldly tricks that I won’t divulge, but one involves inducing an intoxicating, narcotic state that allows the briefly giddy couple to be officiated by a tree. As the planet is brought to its knees, the oblivious couple don’t realize the horror that surrounds them, believing the critter in the cabin is just a “fuzzy footstool.” While Su and Jack carry on their inane conversations and back-to-nature schtick, Fischer and Wilson are in stealth mode, slow-peeling the aliens’ backyard attack to the audience. If I were watching this in a theater, I would be hearing everyone around me giggling.
Mani and Reynolds are terrific as the light-thinking duo. Well-centered, but not too deep. While the world tumbles around them, they play cards, do jigsaw puzzles, drink booze, smoke grass. Their patter is familiar and funny. Even after the WTF moment arrives just before halftime, as the soundtrack and effects get real creepy and agitated, the couple’s angst remains anchored in chuckle-worthy dialogue, tempered by their inability to deal with the escalating situation. The bits of news caught from their phones are disturbing and loony, like Yankee Stadium being destroyed.
How on Earth can these cute little furballs being doing so much harm?
Yet the film keeps the battle for planet earth to a quite satisfying personal level. No alarmist mass hysteria (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) or death rays (War of the Worlds), just Jack and Su arming themselves at various moments with a plunger, tennis racket, toilet tank top, or other non-effective household weaponry. As they plot their escape, their lack of basic survival skills sends the comedy into higher gear, even if neither of them realize they don’t know how to drive a stick shift. So, clang those frantic cowbells and let the chasing begin. Keep the camera jittery, toss in scenes that easily distract the couple, and then hand them a baby for added unwanted, frantic responsibility!
Unconventionally funny, the film captures the lunacy of displacement quite well. As for the ending, I’m not sure it works as well as what leads up to it, but you hopefully won’t be disappointed.
My one gripe? At the beginning of the film, Su and Jack are drinking at a Brooklyn bar, an assortment of taps evident in the shot. Yet Jack is drinking Lagunitas IPA. From a bottle! Poor beer etiquette. No glass? I’m not hoppy with that.
Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the new documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).