Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo has a knack for teasing out the surreality from the most ordinary of situations. His debut feature, Timecrimes, follows a path of circular logic that begins (again and again) with a man relaxing in his backyard. The film won the Next Wave award at the 2007 Fantastic Fest. His second film, Extraterrestrial, cloaks a romantic comedy within the portentous promise of a science-fiction story. And though the film’s alien invasion looms without fully actualizing, the possibility that creatures from outer space may have secretly inhabited the bodies of our friends and lovers makes the characters’ romantic liaisons all the more fraught.
Julio (Villagrán) wakes up in the apartment of Julia (Jenner) after what has clearly been a wild one-night stand. Neither remembers the other’s name, and Julia seems in a rush to have Julio leave. While trying to figure out why they have no telephone reception, they look out the window and discover a giant spaceship hovering over Madrid. Apparently, 30 ships are in the skies over the city and all the residents were evacuated while Julio and Julia slept off their wild night. The only person who seems to have stuck around is Julia’s dweeby neighbor Angel (Areces), who harbors a not-so-secret crush on the beauty. They all remain inside the apartment building, as the emergency broadcast advises. Time passes, and then Julia’s longtime boyfriend, Carlos (Cimas), appears. Carlos has trekked across the city to reach Julia and turns out to be something of a survivalist who conjures up exploratory missions into the outside world to gather supplies and information.
Among these four, a web of lies grows. One untruth about how Julio came to be in Julia’s apartment leads to another corroborating lie. On and on the deceptions pile until the truth becomes all but lost. And how convenient if any weird behavior could be explained away by alien inhabitation. Yet, to the best of our knowledge, we never see an alien being or learn why the spaceships have docked over Madrid. Vigalondo cleverly uses the partial image of a spaceship as a device to goose his low-budget, four-person story of interpersonal relations. The performances are all good (Villagrán won the Jury Prize for Best Actor at the 2011 Fantastic Fest), and the script is dotted with amusing bits of business. But, on the whole, Extraterrestrial is slight, filled with lots of bark but little bite.
For Marc Savlov’s Fantastic Fest interview with Vigalondo on Extraterrestrial, see “Teaching You the Fear,” Sept. 23, 2011.