The conversation around No One Will Save You began almost as soon as the film appeared on Hulu last week. Fueled by strong early reviews and an intriguing trailer, it inspired early viewers to effusively post about it online, which in turn led to a word of mouth wave that included admirers like Guillermo del Toro and Stephen King. Google the film and you’ll also find an assortment of spoiler-friendly interviews with writer/director Brian Duffield and ending explainers, the sort of post-release pieces usually reserved for films that play theaters.
No One Will Save You isn’t the first streaming release to receive that treatment, but it still feels like a turning point. While theaters remain stuck in a post-summer lull — last week’s highest profile new release was Expand4bles — the film confirmed that people want to watch and discuss movies in all seasons, just not the movies currently at the local multiplex. Which, even this deep into an era dominated by streaming services, still feels odd. Why is the hottest movie of the moment playing on your TV screen?
No One Will Save You plays well at home, which can be a perfectly fine place to watch a suspense-and effects-filled thriller. But it would undoubtedly play even better in theaters, with the palpable tension that comes from watching a movie of its ilk with a crowd. It feels against the natural order of the movie-release universe for No One Will Save You to have its moment on the small screen.
The film stars Kaitlin Dever as Brynn, a seamstress who lives alone in her family’s country house. But her isolation is more than physical: due to a long-ago incident, the details of which aren’t revealed until later in the film, she’s shunned by others in her community. No one talks to her. Apart from one memorable moment, no one in the film really talks at all, a device Duffield uses to pare the film down to its basic elements as Brynn is forced to fight for her life against alien invaders. Beyond that novel feature, No One Will Save You explores themes of guilt and empathy before ending with a coda that, under other circumstances, would prompt a lot of chatter in the lobby after the show about what happened and what it meant.
It’s an unusual film, which makes its bypassing of theaters part of an annoying trend. The summer of Barbenheimer has served as a reminder that moviegoers are open to, even eager for, movies that go beyond the tried and tested (and the flagging fortunes of some long-running franchises suggested that familiarity has its downside). Surely No One Will Save You could have found a place in the September releases alongside The Nun II.
Not even being associated with a franchise is a guarantee that movies that should play theaters find a home there. Undoubtedly studio politics played a role in the decision to send the 20th Century Fox film to Hulu, just as they did last year with Prey, the terrific Dan Trachtenberg-directed Predator prequel set in the 18th century Great Plains.
The divide between what played theaters and what skipped them used to be pretty clear, with films that went direct to streaming (and DVD and VHS before that) almost always winding up there with good reasons. Sure, there were gems, but finding them required a lot of winnowing. Streaming services are still clogged with off-brand Amityville Horror follow-ups and giant CGI sharks but the old theater/home polarity is getting reversed with increasing frequency. For instance, tthe horror-and-suspense focused streamer Shudder premiered an of-the-moment horror film, Influencer, a sharp and squirmy thriller directed by Kurtis David Harder, starring Emily Tennant as an Instagram celebrity whose trip to Thailand takes an unexpected turn after she befriends CW (Cassandra Naud), a fellow tourist whose friendliness and helpfulness may not be all it first appears. Highlighted by Naud’s unnerving performance and Harder’s gift for slowly ratcheting up the tension, it’s the sort of film that might have gripped audiences in theaters ). That it’s begun showing up on best horror movies of the year lists is no surprise. Neither, at this point, is it surprising that one of the best horror movies of the year never played theaters, while the fourth Insidious sequel and a good-enough Stephen King adaptation like The Boogeyman did.
Will the situation ever turn around? As with all attempts to figure out where movies are going in this uncertain moment the answer is a big “Who knows?” But if it is the new normal for intriguing genre films to find a natural home in the streaming world it’s worth noting what thrives there. The phrase “streaming movie” conjures visions of competent nothings that can play in the background without demanding too much attention, but the films above—which are driven by stylish filmmaking and toy with familiar formulas—all involve attention.