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Following up 2007’s cult-embraced Timecrimes, Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo again courts the brainier faction of the Comic-Con crowd with Extraterrestrial, a witty pic set on the fringes of science fiction and using alien invasion as catalyst for very human conflict. Funny and sexy, it could please art house audiences who have been prepped not to expect the usual kind of genre payoff.
Taking George Romero’s classic Living Dead conceit a few degrees further, the picture focuses exclusively on the effect a sudden invasion has on a quartet of city dwellers. In fact, viewers will quickly suspect the movie may never intend to show them an alien onscreen at all, instead depicting only the one massive saucer hovering over Madrid.
Julio and Julia (Julian Villagran and Michelle Jenner) discover that saucer after a drunken one-night stand, awakening to realize that the entire city has evacuated in the space of a few hours — all except for Angel (Carlos Areces), the chubby nerd next door, who has a creepy crush on Julia, and Julia’s boyfriend Carlos (Raul Cimas), who has been away but shows up at the apartment ready to help her survive the apocalypse.
Playing like a little comedy of manners set in an overlooked corner of somebody else’s big-budget genre movie, Extraterrestrial establishes some very entertaining dynamics, with Julio and Julia’s efforts to hide the truth of the night before made almost unnecessary thanks to Carlos’s endearingly trusting nature. As Angel threatens to blow their cover, Julio contrives a way to use the day’s events against him, pushing the comic action beyond the walls of Julia’s apartment and letting Vigalondo see just how large a story he can tell with practically no special effects and minimal use of other actors.
Reminiscent of Gareth Edwards’s Monsters last year, the picture succeeds on the chemistry of its cast, Spaniards who are unknown here but have enough charisma to make us stop waiting for the arrival of whatever many-tentacled, slimy things lurk inside that gigantic airborne disk. The comic flavor of Vigalondo’s script finds room for serious beats, as a growing remorse afflicts Julio, and Carlos’s turn toward militant survivalism threatens to drive him insane. When an alien-invasion yarn has three guys pursuing the same girl from different angles, who needs aliens?
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production Companies: Sayaka Producciones/Apaches Entertainment
Cast: Julian Villagran, Michelle Jenner, Raul Cimas, Carlos Areces, Miguel Noguera
Director-screenwriter: Nacho Vigalondo
Producer: Nahikari Ipioa
Director of photography: Jon D. Dominguez
Production designer: Idoia Esteban
Music: Jorge Magaz
Costume designer: Ana MarÌa Holgueras
Editor: Jon D. Dominguez
Sales: Wild Bunch
No rating, 94 minutes
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