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November 11, 2012

Extraterrestrial

(2012, Dir. by Nacho Vigalando.)

What if the aliens invaded and nothing really happened? That's the conundrum posed to four characters in Extraterrestrial, a unique sci-fi comedy from Spain. The movie quickly establishes that a saucer of great size and unnatural origin is floating above the city - which is obviously not an optimal circumstance for relationship building - and then lets us watch as they try to deal with the intergalactic situation while sorting out their romantic compatibilities.

The film opens with Julio and Julia - what a coincidence! - a man and woman who have just partaken in a mostly forgotten one night stand and who now notice the TV is out and the streets are quiet and, oh yeah, there's a mile wide ship floating over their heads.  Julia seems quite embarrassed by this man being in her apartment at what might be the end of the world, which we soon learn is because of her wanting neighbor, Angel, and her long-term boyfriend, Carlos.  Julio, on the other hand, wants to stick around because Julia is hot.  A different kind of love rectangle follows.

The ensuing action is a clash of personalities and a series of standoffs between the three men; standoffs whose lunacy is amplified by the characters' place in the abandoned world.  The actors who surround Julia, who is played charmingly by Michelle Jenner - each have their own strengths and flaws that fit a different need in the situation. Julio seems to be the most reasonable of the bunch, but he's also playfully devious and does his best to manipulate the situation to keep himself close to Julia.  This is a sharp contrast to her boyfriend Carlos, who pushes forth rules about how to act in the face of the invasion while missing the obvious connection between Julio and Julia and putting himself in plenty of difficult situations.  The other problem for all three characters is Angel - played humorously by Carlos Areces, who headlined another excellent Spanish film, The Last Circus - the jealous neighbor who lusts for Julia and goes to strange lengths to call out her affair with Julio.  Areces' performance is definitely the most comical in the film, and his work solidifies the film's bizarre reality.

The invaders are barely considered, outside of speculation by the frustrated characters, and writer/director Nacho Vigalondo focuses almost all of his attention on the budding relationship between Julio and Julia as it pertains to this world turned upside down. The plot could draw some comparisons to Shaun of the Dead, but it's important to note that Vigalondo is not playing his script for big laughs in most scenes.  This is not the kind of comedy that will attack you with slapstick antics - though there are a couple of scenes involving Angel that go full out goofy - and I instead found myself caught up in the scenario and laughing at the choices made by the characters and the props they deal with.  It's the little things about the movie - like a jar of peaches that shows up in several scenes - that become running gags and remind us how ridiculous these characters' lives have become.

Extraterrestrial worked for me - worked very well, actually - because it comes off as so unique and different for both the sci-fi genre and the independent film scene. The director and the actors manage to present the confusion of an alien invasion and add boatloads of sexual tension between the leads, and they do all of this without ever getting into the specifics of the invasion or getting too graphic with the relationship.  It's a deft little film that takes what could have been a simple romantic comedy and turns it into a grand scale dramatic comedy thanks to one big idea.  That idea is the hook that got me to check out the film, but the whole of the film ends up more fun than most alien invasion films that focus on special effects and laser battles.  Extraterrestrial isn't a by the number science fiction film, but it's probably going to go down as one of my favorite entries into the genre in some time.

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