You may have read that Nacho Vigalondo’s new film, Extraterrestrial, is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of a mysterious alien invasion, but I don’t think that quite gets across the truth of the film. Extraterrestrial is a human comedy, a movie about the foibles and stupidities of human beings when they’re dealing with each other. And especially when they’re dealing with women.
Julio wakes up in bed next to Julia, a stunningly beautiful woman. Neither remember the night before, or each other’s names. As they awkwardly deal with the fallout of a blackout one night stand, they come to realize something way bigger is happening in the world - a four mile wide space ship is hovering over Madrid.
Julia and Julio are just two of the players. Angel is the creepy, passive aggressive neighbor who is in love with Julia. And then there’s Carlos… Julia’s boyfriend. Who turns out to be nice, smart, heroic, and an all around decent guy. The rest of the city is evacuated and these four are among the only stragglers left behind to face an uncertain world.
And this is where the lying comes in. Julio and Julia lie to Angel and then to Carlos. Then each of those lies require new lies to back them up and the next thing you know this web of lies has created a situation where maybe, just possibly, one of them is actually an alien in disguise, infiltrating the Earth. Or maybe not. Either way, the lies begin to take on lives of their own.
Vigalondo’s characters aren’t bad people, they’re just flawed and confused. He’s taking on some brave moral territory here, asking us to side with these cheaters, and he makes it even harder by having Carlos, the wronged party, be a pretty okay dude. But Vigalondo doesn’t want to go with easy answers here; while TimeCrimes had a complicated, twisting plot, Extraterrestrial has a complicated, twisting emotional center. The story of Extraterrestrial is simple, but everything contained within it is complex.
Julian Villagran brings a great grounded quality to Julio; you like him even as he is creating outrageous lies. And you can understand why he’s doing it the moment you lay eyes on Michelle Jenner, who plays Julia. She’s stunning, but more than that she’s great at getting across the confusion of her situation. She’s with Carlos, but she has feelings for Julio, but Carlos is a pretty good guy… and they’re all trapped in an apartment together.
Raul Cimas is great as Carlos, playing him just ever so slightly broadly. Vigalondo puts the character through some interesting paces - including some very political stuff that surely resonates strongly in the former fascist Spain - but Cimas is so likable you’re with him the whole way. He’s like a big, goofy Labrador. And then Carlos Areces (from last year’s Fantastic Fest film The Last Circus) is like a fat little Spanish Thomas Lennon, perfectly creepy and just a bit sad. He’s got a very surprising arc as well - but like I said, it’s the emotional stuff that Vigalondo is making complicated this time.
Extraterrestrial isn’t much of an alien invasion movie, but it’s a wonderful movie about people. The UFO operates as a metaphor for the one night stand that sparks everything else - ever present, ever looming, distorting and disrupting the rest of everyday life. Those expecting a TimeCrimes-like bit of clockwork trickery will be disappointed, but if you come to Extraterrestrial expecting warmth, humor and emotional honesty, you’ll be hugely satisfied.