Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Distributed by Icon Home Entertainment
The morning after a barely-remembered one night stand is rendered infinitely more uncomfortable for Julio (Villagrán) and Julia (Jenner) by the discovery that as they slept, giant alien ships have appeared on Earth, hovering over major cities. The majority of the population of their particular town have been evacuated to an unknown location, but a few stragglers still remain. Among these is Julia’s nerdy neighbour Ángel (Areces), who is quite obviously (but secretly) smitten with her and, more challengingly for the pair, Julia’s boyfriend, Carlos (Cimas).
As the group come together in Julia’s apartment to try and figure out just what is going on with their ominous interstellar visitors, director Vigalondo starts us off on a light-hearted Woody Allen-esque comedy of errors. Through their own graphic design, group discussion and snippets of information gleaned from a still-transmitting local TV station, Julio and Co. busy themselves with trying to come up with a plan. There’s a rotten core to the whole affair, however, and soon the lies spun by Julio and Julia in an attempt to hide their previous night-time activities from Carlos lead to yet more lies, attention-diverting victimisation and the unintentional fostering of extreme paranoia.
Extraterrestrial is a funny movie, no doubt – but only sporadically. As a light romp, it rarely finds itself particularly bogged down or losing pace but at the same time it lacks sufficient substance. Vigalondo makes the bold move of having none of his story’s protagonists be particularly endearing individuals – all of them more concerned with their own individual obsessions and desires to the point that the dissolution of the group is inevitable. As Ángel, Carlos Areces delivers most of the laughs, his character outshining the rest by a wide margin. In fact, quite possibly the most memorable part of the film involves little more than him, a tennis ball shooting machine, a flag and a megaphone. That this one short sequence manages to eclipse almost the entirety of the film surrounding it is rather damning – it acts as a reminder of the energy that the rest of Extraterrestrial is sorely lacking.
So little is presented of actual value regarding the alien visitors that they might as well not even be there. It’s a perplexing move considering they seem to be central enough to the story to name the film itself in reference to them – hell, for all of the effect this decision actually has it could have been inexplicably giant monkey heads floating across the city, or simply an effects-budget-saving news report detailing a chemical spill/terrorist attack that has necessitated the evacuation. With a few extra tweaks, the story could be played out almost entirely the same way with little narrative or thematic impact. On one hand, it’s another admirably bold approach by Vigalondo but on the other, it’s a consistent source of frustration and disappointment throughout. Waiting for the film to actually go anywhere interesting is a futile exercise as it treads water with the odd dash of pleasingly black humour, only to draw to a close with little in the way of any kind of payoff. The persistent quirkiness of its characters’ behaviour lends a certain charm, but the material isn’t strong enough to keep itself going on that alone.
Just like the giant ships that hover overhead, Extraterrestrial will hold your attention without much effort – but a refusal to switch on the engines means it’s never more than just… ‘there’.
Icon Home Entertainment’s UK DVD release of Extraterrestrial is well presented in terms of audio and video, but it comes bereft of special features.