Emerging Spanish genre specialist Nacho Vigalondo follows up his critically acclaimed, mind-bending feature debut Timecrimes with Extraterrestrial, a seriocomic romantic drama set against the backdrop of a mysterious alien invasion. But handsome cinematography, fluid direction, and the occasional flash of wry humor just can’t make up for the fact that this frustrating sophomore effort goes nowhere slowly.
Julio (Julian Villagran) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) are attempting to navigate the awkward aftermath of a drunken one-night stand when they notice a massive UFO hovering ominously in the sky. It seems that all of the tenants in Julia’s building have vanished without a trace, along with most of the people in the city, save for Julia's portly, prying neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces). Later, when Julia's boyfriend Carlos (Raul Cimas) shows up, an awkward game of deception emerges as Julia and Julio attempt to keep their fling a secret. When Angel catches wind of the affair, however, the dynamics in the apartment start to shift. Desperate, Julia and Julio hatch a plan to get Angel out of the picture and ensure that Carlos remains none the wiser. Unfortunately for the conniving couple, that's easier said than done, and before long, human conflict begins to take precedence over the strange events unfolding outside.
First things first: If you walk into Extraterrestrial expecting to see little green men, you’re bound to be disappointed. The title is purely metaphorical, and the sooner you realize that, the more likely you are to settle in and accept the film for the romantic comedy-drama that it truly is. But even once you manage to do that, there’s little chance you’ll truly find yourself drawn into this stylized yet stagnant tale of star-crossed lovers. As a director, Vigalondo possesses an immense talent for setting up a scene and focusing our attention exactly where it needs to be. He fills the film with confident long takes that offer a refreshing reprieve from the frantic visual style of many contemporary directors, and he displays a knack for great comic timing as well. Despite the highly original take on the traditional material, however, poor characterization and uncharismatic performances by leads Villagran and Jenner prevent Extraterrestrial from coming together in a satisfying way.
In any romantic drama, it’s crucial to have characters the audience can root for; a large part of the tension comes from putting obstacles in the way of their romance and keeping the audience in suspense as the lovers attempt to fight through them. In addition to not being very interesting or compelling characters, Julio and Julia are as selfish and self-centered as they come, making it difficult for us to care whether they’ll end up together. Meanwhile, the most interesting characters -- creepy neighbor Angel and clueless boyfriend Carlos -- are left with little to do or are completely abandoned for long stretches at a time. It’s obvious by the way Vigalondo sets up his story that he knows how to create compelling scenarios and put new twists on familiar ideas, but a good concept can only go so far without the characterization to back it up, and it’s the portrayal of the two most crucial characters that ultimately proves to be Extraterrestrial’s greatest detriment. But don’t write off Vigalondo just yet; should he recognize his weakness and partner with a screenwriter who can help to make up for it, the stars are the limit. leave a comment --Jason Buchanan