Extraterrestrial (Extraterrestre) (2011)
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Nacho Vigalondo’s sophomore directorial effort is one of the most anticipated films at this year’s annual Toronto International Film Festival, and it’s not surprising because the talented director has already proved that he can beguile audiences after his highly innovative debut, Time Crimes, received beyond positive reviews.
Upon hearing the news that this genre-blending director was going to make a dark romantic comedy that takes place during an alien invasion, one would think Vigalondo’s next feature would win over mainstream filmgoers as well as hardcore film aficionados. Sadly, Extraterrestrial falls victim to the classic sophomore jinx and suffers greatly for being a film that is neither suggested in the teaser trailer, poster or official synopsis.
Extraterrestrial opens up to a promising start as we are quickly introduced to Julio (Julian Villagran) and the beautiful Julia (Michelle Jenner), who have had a drunken one-night stand after meeting at a club in Madrid the night before. Before taking his “walk of shame” home, Julio notices his cell phone is not working and neither is Julia’s. It is then when they notice how eerily quiet it is outside, and after looking out the window, they both see gargantuan spaceships hovering in the skyline.
The only other person in Julia’s building is her strange, anti-social neighbor, Angel (Carlos Areces), who lets the pair know early on that everyone has been evacuated from the city in light of the alien invasion. However, Angel is clearly infatuated with Julia, and when Julia’s trusting and naïve boyfriend Tipo (Miguel Noguera) arrives, Julia and Julio must do everything in their power to keep their blossoming romance a secret and convince Tipo that Angel is in fact an alien. A quirky and unexpected comedy ensues.
For those who are hoping to see aliens and UFOs in this film, I can tell you firsthand that the film is full of UFOs — Universal Fuck-Yous Onscreen. It is normally not approved of to spoil elements of a film, but in this case it is necessary to let filmgoers know what they are getting into. If you are expecting to see aliens in this so-called ‘alien invasion’ film, then you will be sorely disappointed as this film is about alienation of loved ones and the ugliness of human behavior rather than the cunning science-fiction comedic hi-jinxes most viewers were expecting to see. So if you were expecting to watch a film that would be tagged as ‘Shaun of the Dead meets Cloverfield,’ then lower your expectations now because Extraterrestrial is definitely NOT that kind of film.
The alien invasion in Vigalondo’s film is not the film’s main plotline, but in fact it is used as a device to keep the four characters confined to Julia’s apartment to deal with the comical drama involved with Julio and Julia’s affair. Although Vigalondo’s decision of confining the characters in one space for a huge chunk of the film does engross viewers for a while, it quickly becomes tiresome, and audience members wait and wait for an alien attack that never happens.
Shockingly, the film does have some strong points and those come from the budding romance between the goofy Julio and the gorgeous Julia. Villagran and Jenner definitely win over audiences early on with their endearing performances, and if the film was about something else (ANYTHING ELSE), then the drama between these two characters would have been far more engaging.
Overall, Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial is a disappointing sophomore effort that would have fared well as a multi-layered stage production instead. While it is an idiosyncratic picture full of quirky and interesting moments, it is not the sci-fi black comedy anyone is hoping to see.
2 out of 5
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