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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

How ‘No One Will Save You’ terrifies us with hardly a word

Kaitlyn Dever in “No One Will Save You.” The writer-director Brian Duffield encouraged her to mutter if it felt right but the role is largely wordless.

By Tomris Laffly

The nail-biter “No One Will Save You” quietly materialized on Hulu Sept. 22 and became a streaming darling overnight, an apt entrance for a largely dialogue-free chiller about an alien invasion.

Because the hero, Brynn (Kaitlyn Dever), is a trauma-ridden outcast living in solitude, the film’s writer-director, Brian Duffield, always knew that talking would be minimal in his sophomore feature. But he didn’t realize until later just how sparse it would be.

“I got about halfway through the script and thought Brynn won’t see another person for the rest of the movie,” Duffield, whose writing credits include “Love and Monsters,” said in a recent interview. “So it was a happy accident.”

“No One Will Save You” economically establishes Brynn’s world at the start: she lives alone in a lovely but remote house and sells handmade dresses online for a living. The townspeople seem to hate her, but Brynn braves their animosity until, just a few minutes in, a nighttime alien invasion threatens her existence.

It’s a relentless, unsettling and wildly entertaining cat-and-mouse game from there, with Duffield revealing the details of Brynn’s harrowing past in measured drips, while giving the aliens their own dimension. Fans include author Stephen King, who called it “brilliant, daring, involving, scary” on X, formerly known as Twitter, while director Guillermo del Toro posted, “I couldn’t think of a more perfect movie for your weekend,” later adding threads about the film’s religious themes and skillful wordlessness.

Duffield was intent on keeping that quietness non-gimmicky, so he encouraged Dever to mutter to herself freely if it felt right. “There was never a moment where I was like, ‘Let’s do a take where you don’t talk.’ But she didn’t need to talk, because she’s Kaitlyn Dever,” he said, describing her as the movie’s biggest special effect. “She can monologue with her eyes.” (Dever couldn’t be interviewed because of the actors strike.)

The job of articulating as much of the narrative as possible fell to the skilled artisans behind the scenes. Production designer Ramsey Avery filled Brynn’s Louisiana home with clues about her back story. One objective was layering the décor with pieces that suggested generations of her family once lived there. So the rooms were dressed with childhood photos, hand-sewn pillows and window treatments, and little signs about the importance of family — a cottage-core aesthetic augmented by romantic, Sirkian touches that Brynn inherited a taste for. “Since she has nothing else to do,” Avery said, “she finds affordable things online, Etsy shopping and bargain hunting.”

Avery also had the idea for the quaint birdhouse village that Brynn gradually builds — a hobby she presumably shared with her mother once, now a perfect metaphor for her caged isolation.

The real house was built in the late 19th century and moved to its present location in the ’70s— a history that thematically echoed Brynn’s world. “But the interiors didn’t work, so we had to design our own based on specific action needs,” Avery said. That meant building a set where they could rearrange windows to allow alien light in, conceive a bedroom where the ceiling could press down on Brynn and create an environment that would allow cinematographer Aaron Morton to fluidly capture all these visual details to advance our understanding of Brynn.

For Morton, working on a wordless film felt like a heightened version of his usual trade. “My whole job is the pictures,” he said. “But this put even more pressure on the planning.” Because the film is propelled by set pieces that pit Brynn against the aliens, Morton had to consider how much she or the audience would be allowed to see. “It was about elevating the tension by showing, not telling, things.”

To create that alien light, Morton used multiple 50-foot cranes, some with lights attached, others with cameras, all choreographed together while Brynn runs between the house, car and forest. “That gave us an opportunity to show the audience things that Brynn couldn’t see. We’d wash the light over a window in the background to remind people that the threat is still there.”

That threat is an extraterrestrial species derived from the archetypal Grays, the elongated aliens familiar from pop culture that Duffield has always loved. “It felt like they had gone missing, so I wanted to bring back what’s become like the emoji alien,” Duffield said. “It never felt like someone did a horror movie with them.” In creating the Grays, visual effects producer Sarah Miesen took special care to infuse them with consistent but distinctive features and expressions to help the audience both differentiate and feel for them.

“We had the main Gray and three different versions of it,” she explained. “We added some blue tattooing on one head and did a crown on another. They all had different personalities.” Wordlessness also meant additional time spent creating alien movements that conveyed their emotions and relatable qualities, like a sense of curiosity, while seeming both scary and realistic. “But not funny, because you don’t want people to laugh when they’re supposed to be afraid.”

Varying the Grays’ individual sounds was just as essential. “Not only were we creating a voice for these aliens, but also multiple ones that felt related but unique,” said William Files, a supervising sound editor and rerecording mixer. “They are clearly from a similar species. We wanted to expand on that sonically. If we got the characterizations right, you hopefully have some idea of not only how they’re making Brynn feel, but how they feel as well.”

“We were keeping some vulnerability in their language, especially towards the end where they’re feeling for Brynn,” added sound designer Chris Terhune, who also did sound mixing and editing alongside Files.

The duo knew no dialogue didn’t mean no audible feeling from Brynn. “A lot of it is in the little sounds she makes,” Files said. “We did a whole pass with her in the studio, adding little emotional breaths from her.” Mundane sounds like creaky floorboards and chirping crickets were meant to help the audience hear what Brynn is hearing.

The sound team collaborated closely with composer Joseph Trapanese. The three often had to define what would be the more prominent audio element in certain acts: the score or the sound. Trapanese avoided anything too sci-fi, leaning into the idea that Brynn herself was a lonesome alien in her town: “There’s actually more synthesized electronic material in her music than there is for the aliens.”

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