In his piece for CT, Aaron Earls explores what C. S. Lewis thought about evangelizing aliens—provided we discover they do indeed exist. But what if aliens came to proselytize us?
Directed by Brian Duffield and now streaming on Hulu, No One Will Save You is a mostly silent sci-fi horror film featuring only a single discernible line of dialogue. The film has already earned high praise from the likes of Stephen King and other horror genre heavyweights.
In it, a young woman named Brynn (played by Kaitlyn Dever) must fight off an alien invasion in her small town, from which she’s been ostracized for reasons we don’t find out until later. The movie’s extraterrestrials are archetypal “grey man” aliens, hauntingly recognizable to many a sci-fi fan.
But Duffield and his team wanted the alien takeover to be marked with spiritual overtones. “Having these religious aspects felt like a way to differentiate the aliens from other pop culture,” Duffield told Christianity Today. “I wanted there to be an aspect to them where you couldn’t debate [the aliens] because they had this faith that told them what to do.”
I was tipped off about some of these religious nuances early on by a thread on Twitter/X from director Guillermo del Toro. Known for horror films himself (such as Pan’s Labyrinth), del Toro praised No One Will Save You and said it embodies an “essential principle in Catholic dogma” where “grace and salvation emerge from pain and suffering.”
While that may not be quite what Duffield had in mind when crafting his film, he admits it’s “exciting that it could be read through a Catholic lens,” and that the film’s undeniable religious imagery was both a conscious and subconscious decision birthed from his own background as a missionary kid. As a pastor’s kid myself and a lover of horror films, I was fascinated by how he weaved together the spiritual and the horrific.
Duffield spoke to CT about crafting the liturgy and prayer lives of the extraterrestrial(s), how his Christian upbringing may have influenced the religious aspects of the film, and why he loves using the horror genre to explore themes of faith and spirituality. Spoiler warning: we discuss the film’s ending as well as some key scenes.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Congrats on the film! I saw that you shared that you were a missionary kid who grew up in Ireland. As much as you’re willing to put on the record, could you share your experience?
Well, in ’95 my family moved from Pennsylvania to Ireland to work at a church and start churches in Ireland. We started off in County Kildare. We were there for a while and then we moved to County Claire, where my parents started a church near the Shannon Airport. That was a lot of my childhood. I came back to the States and started off [in college] at what is now Messiah University. I also did some [studies] with Temple University, where Messiah had a sister school program. Then I went to Hollywood.
Tale as old as time. It’s funny because the Sunday that you shared briefly about your missionary background, I saw that it was in response to this thread that director Guillermo del Toro had posted, where he explained some of the theological themes in the film. After reading it, I was like, I guess I don’t need to go to church because I already got a sermon. I’m curious: What was your reaction when you saw his words, and did you agree with some of the ways he was reading the film?
Yeah, it was really cool. When very famous people promote the movie, I always assume there’s money under the table. He had posted about the movie the previous day, and I was like, Oh, that’s very cool, and then when I woke up to his thread where he really dug in and engaged with the film beyond just, Go watch this movie on Hulu—that was all very mind-blowing.
There’s definitely a lot of religion in the movie. I’m personally not a Catholic, but it was cool seeing how he engaged with the idea that the aliens were faith-based, especially when he was getting into the Eucharist stuff. That’s not at all what I brought to the table with the movie, but it was very exciting that it could be read through a Catholic lens.
I read in an interview that you shared how the weird religious aspects to the aliens is “probably the result of some childhood trauma” that you had. Did you find yourself consciously or more subconsciously drawing upon your missionary/faith background when you were constructing the imagery and themes of the film?
It’s a little bit of both. The aliens being faith-based was always a really big part of it for me. In human history, colonizers and explorers—whatever faith they have—never view themselves as the bad guys. They’re more like, We gotta raise these people up to our level.
For Brynn’s character, what’s terrifying is that she’s not just abducted by aliens but by an alien cult. She doesn’t know what the aliens’ strange gestures mean but she knows it’s not good for her.
Like when the little alien is chasing Brynn, I thought it’d be great if there was a scene where he took a break from chasing Brynn and just started praying—the daddy-longlegs-type alien we viewed as the priest alien, who is directly communing with the UFOs and is having these very ritualistic hand motions.
I was trying to build in these moments where even if Brynn couldn’t understand the aliens, she had this sense that they had this broader culture to them. That was intentional, as opposed to having the aliens just hiss like racoons.
That’s interesting to think about it. It makes me think of how in evangelical culture, we normalize so much that can look completely weird to people who are on the outside.
Yeah! In the film, when people are controlled by the aliens, we had them very specifically doing praise and worship hands to the UFO. I wanted to show in a simple way that there’s been a sort of “conversion” into this belief system at play.
If an alien walked into church or a mosque or anything, there’s going to be these ritualistic aspects that are completely bizarre. I think that’s been true in human history, where you have these guys come over on ships and they cannot be more different than the native people of the land. … But then also show how this is typically how these things have gone in human history.
Yeah, even though we can’t understand what the aliens are saying (there are no subtitles when the aliens are communicating), I felt like there were these interesting spiritual and theological notes that were apparent. I’m thinking of how you framed the alien abduction scenes as a twisted form of rapture, or how when the aliens “convert” people, they’re shoving the mind-controlling parasite down their victims’ throats. Insert shoving Scripture or the Bible down people’s throats, etc.
Some of those were specific. Even the light from the UFO when it abducts people is such a holy light in a way.
One of the questions I’ve talked with my nerdy friends about is: If aliens are real, why is the government hiding it? I get the economic impact. If Biden comes out tomorrow and says, “Aliens are real! They’re here!” I’m sure the economy would shatter.
But there’s also this aspect of how religions around the world would have a real look-in-the-mirror moment. What happens if aliens come and they say to us, “We’re here to tell you the Good Word”? It all becomes very complicated and interesting.
I pared back exploring some of this in the film, though, because it started to feel like a different movie. But it was intentional that the aliens had this belief system and something like a God that we see toward the end of the movie—and that being a terrifying aspect to Brynn. She has this sense that there’s no fighting this.
The cult-y setting of the film is interesting as well, because we know Brynn’s in a hostile community and in some form of danger even before the aliens show up. The ambiance reminded me of the vibes of an uptight and sheltered religious community. It’s interesting to think that she goes from one type of “cult” to another “cult” with the aliens.
Yes, that was very intentional. It’s the same with that scene where she visits the church [where Brynn avoids an alien attack and then flees to her town’s church, but when she tries to enter, the doors are locked].
That came from some of my frustrations with what feels like the lack of Jesus in modern American Christianity. You would hope that for Brynn in that instance, the church community would band together. Instead, she’s expelled like a splinter.
We even cut a scene due to pacing, where after she sees the UFO over the church, she tries to break in, but all these shrieking alarms go off. It was there just for the comment, not for the movie, so it was hard to justify.
I think my parents, to their immense credit, would be the ideal version of what church should bring to a community, but that hasn’t always been my experience in regard to what the church has been.
Yeah, the church shouldn’t be known primarily for who it ostracizes, but for some parts of evangelical American Christianity, that seems to be the case. This makes me also think of the ending. I’m a pastor’s kid, so I feel like I see everything in terms of a sermon illustration.
There’s that scene where we learn why Brynn has been rejected from her community: She unintentionally killed her close friend Maude when she was younger, after the two had an argument. Then she was exiled from her community in a way, which was sort of giving Cain and Abel vibes.
I was also thinking of how when Brynn was captured by the aliens, she was sent back to her town, back to the place that’s caused her so much pain. But then at the ending, there’s an element of restoration of community when she’s spent so much of the film alone. Perhaps contrary to the title, there is some “saving” here for her.
It’s been fun seeing people grapple with the end of the film. For me, I wanted to explore this idea of how these terrible experiences end up being inadvertently healing. The aliens don’t mean to heal her at all. They’re just kind of curious. Yet out of their curiosity, she’s able to weirdly make peace with some aspects of her past.
At the end of the film, she is transformed and different. Encountering the aliens, she has this holy moment with a higher being that is inexplicable to her. That felt very much like Saul turning into Paul. I’ve been seeing a lot of people be like, Why did the aliens let her go? I think there’s a big Christian element to salvation where it is inexplicable.
Like you can say, “It’s because [God] loves us,” but when you think about it, even that is inexplicable. And for the film, I liked sort of co-opting some of that because it is, you know, by grace we’re saved. I think that’s true for Brynn.
There so much [spiritual/Christian] stuff like that in the movie. Some of it I can’t articulate, and some of it my editor will point out.
Pivoting slightly, this is your second feature film, but you’ve written many scripts for a number of horror/monster films like Underwater and Love and Monsters. Do you find the horror genre (and perhaps the subset of the monster horror genre) a uniquely helpful one when exploring questions of faith and spirituality? What draws you to that? Because it seems to be your wheelhouse.
It’s a good question. I would love to have a First Reformed in my wheelhouse or a more out-of-left-field Christian movie like Black Snake Moan. I love those movies and what they say about faith, the struggle with faith, and the positivity of faith. I think where I’m age-wise, I understand things through genre better.
It’s like how it took Martin Scorsese 40 years to be able to make Silence. But if there was Godzilla in Silence it probably would have gone easier for him. I don’t think I would have gotten to talk about everything with Brynn’s character or the stuff about faith if there was no genre element. …
I think it’s about being able to selfishly use genre as a way to talk about what I want to talk about, but then also I just love the toys. It’s kind of a win-win. At some point, I would love to do something like The Fabelmans, but it’s really fun doing Jurassic Park right now.
I’m reading Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy right now, and she has this great line where she says, “Perhaps if I had been born in more secular circumstances, I would not think sunsets looked so Christian.” Hearing you share this process makes me think of that.
That’s so funny. That’s a really great quote, because I remember seeing sunsets with my dad and him being like, “God’s amazing,” and then you see it with someone else and they’re like, “Science is amazing.” I’m thinking that those two (science and God) probably go more hand in hand for a lot of people, but yeah, it is funny how you get the lenses you’re born into a lot of the time.
Zachary Lee is a freelance writer covering the intersection between faith and media.