Anyone who has suffered the debacle that is Skyline (so bad, a sequel is guaranteed) would understandably be give pause by the premise of Extraterrestre. An alien invasion told from the vantage of an apartment building. Except that this is only very loosely a science fiction movie, and certainly not an alien invasion one. An offbeat romantic comedy, Nacho Vigalondo’s film plays with the tropes of the genre but through the expectancy of those who have seen such fare rather than anything the aliens do. The result is an unremarkable but agreeable comedy of misunderstandings.
Vigalondo’s previous (and debut) picture Time Crimes is also a science fiction piece, and a frustrating one. Vigalondo worked up some striking ideas and presented them in an often unsettling and visceral manner, but the picture lacks internal logic (that is, the internal logic of the protagonist rather than the internal logic of the time travel device). Extraterrestre is much gentler in form and eschews hard SF concepts. Tensions also tend to be punctuated by humorous developments, yet both films share protagonists labouring under mistaken assumptions who create bigger messes as they attempt to resolve their situations.
Julio (Julian Villagran) awakes in the apartment of the girl with whom he spent previous night. Julia (the mighty purdy Michelle Jenner) clearly doesn’t really want him there, but outside events soon overtake such awkwardness. The streets are deserted, the phones are down, the TV and Internet aren’t working, and there’s an enormous spaceship hanging over the city. Added to this, Julia’s stalker neighbour Angel (Carlos Areces) has remained behind to give her his full attention (he is less than happy at Julio’s presence) and then Julia’s boyfriend Carlos (Raul Cimas) returns.
Face with a very awkward situation, the only option is to lie. First that Julia found Julio passed out on the street. Then, taking cues from Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Julio and Julia cast aspersions on Angel, suggesting there is something strange about him. Events spiral out of control from there; there are attempts to send Angel packing, and Carlos reveals a survivalist instinct (separated from them, he departs to make bombs in another part of the city).
The most effective aspect of Extraterrestre is the manner in which the “invasion” is undercut by the domestic intrigues and subterfuge of the quartet. Julio and Julia continue their carry on, perhaps because Carlos’ presence makes it exciting. Angel, meanwhile, devotes himself to exposing their behaviour to Carlos. This involves taking up residence in an apartment across the street, and attempting to announce Julia’s cuckoldry through banners and firing endless quantities of tennis balls through Julia’s apartment windows.
The escalating tensions between the dogged Angel and Julio make for the funniest scenes; they, and Julia, are out for what they can get, and more than willing to behave manipulatively (if Julio had behaved honourably in the first place the situation wouldn’t have gotten out of control). It’s appropriate then that Julio should be called upon to right the wrongs he has instituted, brewing up one more dose of confusion.
At points the low budget emptiness recalls the Geoff Murphy’s The Quiet Earth, and it’s fitting that the aliens should never make their physical presence felt (except as the paranoia of others). It might be the anti-Pegg and Wright picture, taking a genre staple and backing away from it. There’s an especially deft running gag about a weird alien car (which Julio has designed for a carnival but everyone re-interprets as evidence of invasion), deployed for the Julio’s redemptive act.