THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Extraterrestrial is about a man who attempts to use an alien invasion of Earth for his own romantic benefit. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo utilizes a large-scale concept to tell a very small-scale story. There's something wonderfully weird about that and, in fact, this is a rather unique picture. Even though it's not entirely successful, there is an undeniably oddball charm on display.
There are essentially only four characters in the movie: a young romantic named Julio (Julian Villagran); the woman with whom he's just had a one-night stand, Julia (Michelle Jenner); her boyfriend Carlos (Raul Cimas); and a nosy neighbor, Angel (Carlos Arecas), who secretly wants to bed Julia himself. Most of the action takes place in the apartment Julia and Carlos share. To prevent Carlos from realizing they've had a fling, Julia and Julio concoct a white lie: they claim Julio was knocked unconscious by one of the aliens whose spaceships are hovering in the skies above, and that Julia merely dragged him to safety. Angel knows the truth and repeatedly threatens to blow their cover. In order to substantiate the initial lie, more lies are told, until an entire web of deceit has been spun. But Julio is actually quite smitten with Julia and would like to steal her away from Carlos. He begins crafting more untruths in an attempt to put some distance in her relationship with her boyfriend. When she backs up his lies, it becomes apparent that she may be digging him right back. The question is: Will the Earth be destroyed before they can find a way to be together?
Extraterrestrial is a very witty film. Few directors would dare to introduce an alien invasion and then ignore the aliens. There's an enjoyably quirky progression of events, as the would-be lovers dance around their burgeoning attraction while trying to outwit everyone else. A tennis ball machine, a video camera, and a parade float all come into play during this dance. Vigalondo makes certain that you never know what's coming next. He could throw anything at you at any time. The performances are strong too, with Villagran and Jenner nicely depicting their characters' sexual tension. Carlos Arecas, meanwhile, adds some terrific support as the neighbor whose jealousy leads to comic extremes.
Nacho Vigalondo's previous film was the thriller Timecrimes, which didn't get a very wide U.S. release but has become a minor cult favorite. Both films share a common strength – ingenious plots – but also the same weakness. Timecrimes started out as a riveting time-travel adventure. By the end, though, its exploitation of time loops and their potential repercussions got so dense that everything else was lost. In short, the picture became less of a story and more of a stunt, one that was confusing to follow. Extraterrestrial does the same thing. Initially, the lies are used to bring Julio and Julia closer together. By the third act, so many of them are being created anew or expanded upon that it becomes exhausting trying to keep tabs on who said what, and why. The story works better in the earlier scenes, where the enormity of an alien invasion is juxtaposed against the intimacy of a relationship.
While this was definitely a drawback for me, I nevertheless maintain some affection for Extraterrestrial. Vigalondo does indeed show a gift for creative plotting. He takes real chances with his storytelling, and you can't say that about everybody. My hope is that, in his future efforts, he develops the confidence to pull back a little bit. Ending with a mind-blowing bang is all well and good, but not if you're sacrificing coherence and character to get it.
( 1/2 out of four)
Note: Extraterrestrial is currently in theaters and available on VOD.
Extraterrestrial is unrated but contains language and sexual situations. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
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