James Reviews Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial [Fantastic Fest 2011 Review]

When Nacho Vigalondo came into Austin back in 2007 with his film Timecrimes, nobody knew who he was. This all changed when that first screening happened and he became a rock star among the other directors, proficient at karaoke and just being an all around fun guy. But it was the film that captivated audiences, and even myself who was back in NYC knew I had to seek out this film. And after watching it multiple times since, I’m happy to say it’s one of my favorite time travel movies. Vigalondo finally comes back with a new feature film called Extraterrestrial, a film I made sure not to watch any trailers or read any synopsis about, because I wanted to be surprised by what I saw. Surprise is the key word here.

Julio (Julián Villagrán) wakes up not knowing where he is, looking around and noticing a bedroom he isn’t familiar with. He hears someone walking around, and sees a woman through the cracked open door. He slowly walks out to see the woman is making coffee and startles her with his presence. An awkward exchange of ‘good morning’, she says her name is Julia (the radiant Michelle Jenner), they joke about the names being close to one another, but Julia wants to send Julio on his way. But while Julio is looking out the window he not only notices that there are no people around in the streets on a Sunday morning, there’s also a gigantic spaceship in the middle of the city. He insists he can’t go now, they have to figure out what to do and with no electronics working (cellphones, TV, computer), it’s going to be tricky. A nosy next door neighbor, Angel (Carlos Areces), comes in being quite creepy and Julio right away knows he’s in love with Julia.

Then enters Julia’s boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas), the ideal male who is a legitimate nice guy and someone who knows how to make a plan. He likes Julio right away, which makes the situation that much more awkward between he and Julia. But they find a common enemy in Angel and when one lie pertaining to Angel perhaps being an alien spy goes a bit too far, there’s no stopping the nonstop onslaught of disloyalty. Julio and Julia also start to have feelings for one another, considering they had just been with one another from a one night stand that neither of them remember. Through it all, everyone will never be the same again, relationships change between everyone and who is telling the truth and who is continuously lying. And is anyone actually an alien invader?

What Extraterrestrial is, at its heart, is a romantic comedy. Before I get hate mail saying that’s a horrible thing to say about a film, I mean it only in the most sincere way. At the heart of this film is a love triangle that ultimately becomes a couple, all because of one white lie that multiplies into various other lies. Instead of just coming clean from the start, Julia worries about Carlos knowing she cheated on him with Julio, even though she can’t remember for sure if they even slept together. The thing that is truly interesting about this film is that you care about the central characters of Julio and Julia. Julian Villagran plays Julio with this sly charm that from the very beginning of the movie, you can’t help but like him. Even when he’s coming up new ways to keep the lie going (like stealing Angel’s car and driving it to another part of the city so they think he is indeed an alien), we see him as this lovable schlub that we hope gets the girl at the end.

And the absolutely beautiful Michelle Jenner, as Julia, has a lot on her plate. She has the ideal boyfriend in Carlos but she has true feelings blossoming for Julio now, and the confusion that starts to creep in is really one that many of us have gone through before while in a relationship. What does one do when you have a perfect partner but you start to feel more for someone that has just come into your life? This is one of the complex questions that from the outside looks rather simple, but when it comes to feelings and emotions, you never know what the right answer is. And then when you have Raúl Cimas’ Carlos being this picture perfect boyfriend, the man with the plan, who goes through a severe arc in the film that truly surprised me and Carlos Areces’ Angel being a creep throughout and comes up with a plan to torment our two leads, we have a sense of relationships and how they can affect one’s life, even when there’s a supposed alien invasion going on. And that’s what is truly wonderful about this film. The alien invasion takes a backseat from the very beginning, only showing the spaceship a little bit and being a part of the big lie.

Nacho Vigalondo is back and this time with a film that is not like Timecrimes at all. I’m saying that right away because I’ve been reading comments that the ‘twists and turns’ from his debut feature are not to be found. And that’s not a bad thing. Extraterrestrial is a film, that has a sci-fi basis on the outside, but on the inside is a romance with a comedic flare. A small cast means so much more development and nurturing of these characters, and Vigalondo does wonders to give us characters we laugh with, cry with and ultimately care about their ultimate outcome. One of my favorites from Fantastic Fest, and makes me wonder what Vigalondo will do for feature number three.

James McCormick

Writer. Podcaster. Social Media Enthusiast. James has loved film from the moment he set eyes on the screen. A Brooklyn, New York native, always trying to find a film that will shock and surprise him. Twitter / cineAWESOME