Saturday, September 17, 2011

EXTRATERRESTRIAL

(Contemporary World Cinema)

(Spain, 2011, 90 minutes)

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

Cast: Julian Villagran, Michelle Jenner, Raul Cimas, Carlos Areces, Miguel Noguera

It’s taken too-long time for Nacho Vigalondo to follow up his witty, Mobius loop of a sci-fi thriller “Timecrimes”, and the result is, as expected, a delightful surprise. While still a genre film (ostensibly), “Extraterrestrial” is a quieter, character-driven romp with a deliciously cruel heart that spins a fable of just how far a man will go to compete for a woman’s love, even if there’s a massive alien invasion on the horizon.

One sunny morning Julio (Villagr├ín) wakes up beside beautiful Julia (Jenner) in her apartment, hungover, and unsure of how and when they met, but definitely certain that they’ve engaged in a passionate one-night stand. As Julia rushes Julio on his way, fearful of her boyfriend’s sudden arrival, they both realize the neighbourhood is unusually…quiet. Overhead, in the distance, they can make out the shape of what can only be a massive alien mothership. With no functioning media to consult, they aim a camcorder at the craft and monitor is vigilantly, but the only thing they can be sure of is that an overnight mass exodus has left them possibly the only two people left in Madrid.

But not in the building: Julia’s obsessive creep of a neighbor, Angel (Areces) explains what’s been going on, and reveals he’s all-too-aware of their forbidden dalliance. And then Julia’s boyfriend Carlos (Cimas) shows up alive decked out as a would-be Mad Max, prompting an even bigger fear than total species annihilation: will the conniving blabbermouth Angel tip off Carlos that his girlfriend and Julio have been naughty? What if they were to convince Carlos that Angel is one of the alien invaders?

Almost entirely devoid of special effects, save for the odd cutaway to a news image, “Extraterrestrial” is mostly apartment-bound for much of its running time. For some this might echo Shyamalan’s straight-faced “Signs”, but I couldn’t help but think of it as a comedic version of Geoff Murphy’s New Zealand cult film “The Quiet Earth”, which was also something of an end-of-the-world romantic triangle (with a far less photogenic cast).

Still, the ship is an ominous presence, and much like the giant spacecraft that was suspended silently over Johannesburg in “District 9”, one expects that something could emerge from it at any moment. Carlos makes regular daring visits outside for supplies and fuel, which Vigalondo punctuates with mournful image of vacated streets, a glimpse of strangers, and the occasional unexplained explosion in the distance.

Vigalondo never loses sight of his charming tale’s true purpose: that Julio and Julia juggle truth and fiction in an attempt to preserve what could be their only night together, against the backdrop of what could mankind’s last day left—a wonderful metaphor, really, and I’m amazed that no one else had thought of it earlier. Let’s hope “Extraterrestrial” gets a proper North American release before someone shelves it for an Ashton Kutcher remake… although at the post-screening Q&A Vigalondo jokingly promised “Extraterrestrial 2: Now With Extraterrestrials!"

©2011 Robert J. Lewis