Fantastic Review: ‘Extraterrestrial’ is Human-Focused Sci-Fi

By  · Published on September 28th, 2011

A beam of light threatens the poor, hungover eyeballs of Julio (Julián Villagrán) who wakes up in a bed he’s never been in before. That bed belongs to Julia (Michelle Jenner) who slinks around her apartment cleaning up from a night of drinking and random sex with a stranger. Up in the sky, a UFO has appeared floating above the city.

In fact, they’re all over the place. Overnight, while two people were blacked out drunk, at least thirty have appeared over Spain. Who knows how many more all over the world.

However, writer/director Nacho Vigalondo is less concerned about the ship and more concerned about the play-like humor and drama to be mined from a tangled relationship because, as it turns out, Julia is in high demand (especially by her boyfriend).

Julio has unwittingly stumbled into a fling with a beautiful young woman whose awkward neighbor Ángel (played with sheer, socially confused abandon by The Last Circus’s Carlos Areces) has not-so-quietly pined for her even while she’s been dating Carlos (Raúl Cimas). This Love Rhombus is fertile ground for some truly hilarious moments where Julia and Julio find their chemistry growing right under her man’s nose.

And, yes, all of it is also happening under a bunch of alien’s noses too. The sci-fi conceit used solely to create an environment where people have been cleared from the city and paranoia comes cheap. It’s an extended Twilight Zone episode that is concerned far more with human reactions than laser blasts or chase scenes. The reason for other worldly beings choosing Earth as a vacation spot is never explained, and they never even show their faces. Vigalondo has created a unique twist on science fiction here that gets right to the heart of the interpersonal connections placed under the (slightly funny) strain of being invaded and constantly waiting for a Martian Godot.

On the acting front, Villagrán and Jenner have a kind of sweet, tingling chemistry that would signal wedding bells in any other romance story. While he has a confidence without cockiness, she plays almost every moment with her lips – displaying a casual sexuality that either seems to always be asking to cuddle, get sweaty, or both. She creates a character that’s flirtatiously lovable while he builds a character that sends charm into the room even before he gets there.

The lies and obfuscations escalate to absurd levels, but when the film moves away from the stage play styling, it loses a bit of its appeal. When that heightened sense comes into conflict with the cool pace that the rest of the film has displayed, it’s a conflict that hurts the momentum leading up to the end.

However, the film is ultimately a fun twist on the romantic comedy genre that subverts the usual ideas and just happens to have something large from outer space always floating overhead.

The Upside: More inventive sci-fi humanity from a clever, talented director.

The Downside: A slight film that loses steam near the end even as its subject matter ramps up the ridiculous.

On the Side: I spoke with Nacho Vigalondo during the festival, and we dug deep into the possibility that Angry Birds is an allegory for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Later that night, he tackled producer Ant Timpson on stage at Fantastic Feud. Reasons 1 and 2 to purchase Fantastic Fest tickets for next year.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector Podcast@brokenprojector | Writing short stories at Adventitious.