SIFF Review: Extraterrestrial

2012 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
90 minutes

***

Whenever an alien species invades Earth, there are people who rise up and band together, showing their true quality in the epic fight for survival. And then there are the other guys. Nacho Vigalondo’s (“Timecrimes”) latest film is about the people without a heroic bone in their body and what they get up to during the downtime between the shit and the fan. It’s a bold and original idea, but it seems to promise a little more than it delivers.

Julio (Julian Villagran) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) awake in her apartment, having blackened out the events that put them in bed together. As Julia shoves Julio toward the door, they happen to notice an enormous spacecraft hovering over their unexpectedly deserted city. Something big went down while they were sobering up and they are the last to know. Cell phones are out of commission and the news broadcast urges everyone to remain in their homes. This is the first time sci-fi audiences have ever met the people who followed that advice. Julia’s stalker neighbor, Angel (“The Last Circus” star Carlos Areces, making a career out of creepy, lovelorn characters) also stays behind, most likely to live out his last-man-on-Earth fantasy with Julia. He’s none too pleased to find that Julio has gotten in the way of this.

The only other character in the film is Julia’s boyfriend, Carlos (Raul Cimas) who has traveled some great distance, risking his own safety, to get to her. Carlos is an expat from a traditional sci-fi action film. He’s so obsessed with the idea of saving the day that he is completely oblivious to the love affair that is blossoming between his girlfriend and another man right under his nose. Angel is eager to spill the beans, but Carlos runs off to be a hero before that can happen. Besides, he doesn’t really seem like he would even care that much. He’s far more concerned with events occurring in the world outside.

The only trouble with “Extraterrestrial” is that you don’t really understand what kind of movie it is until it’s over. The frequent jokes and antics clue you in to the satire, but the title implies more (or at least some) participation from otherworldly beings. Instead, we spend the entire time in a “Three’s Company” episode without even a peep from Mork.

Nearly everything in “Extraterrestrial” takes place in Julia and Carlos’ apartment. In another movie, this would create a claustrophobic tone. But because of the tomfoolery between Julio, Julia and Angel, it actually ends up bringing the whole thing into sitcom territory, complete with a wacky neighbor. Angel is increasingly incensed by the goings on between Julio and Julia and makes it his mission to destroy them. He is a cartoon character who is mortally offended when they undervalue a gift of poached peaches. The actors occasionally seem like they want to shift to a more serious tone, particularly when Carlos reveals that the aliens are rumored to walk among them in human form, but their characters’ primary motivations prevent it. They are far too invested in their little love triangle, which, ironically, doesn’t really involve Julia’s boyfriend.

Julio and Julia are perfect for each other. They are so self-absorbed that they can’t really be bothered with the giant spaceship hovering above their city. Angel shares their dubious priorities. These people would die wordlessly in any other alien invasion movie.

“Extraterrestrial” is the story of alien weapon fodder. They’ll sit and wait for what’s to come because they have no other choice. But while they’re awaiting instructions from their new overlords, they might as well engage in some romantic shenanigans.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

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