Four years after making a respectable impact with his debut Timecrimes (2007), Nacho Vigalondo returns with Extraterrestrial (2011), a low-budget Spanish science fiction drama that’s unlikely to have the same impact. The film centres on Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner), two people who wake up together with no memory of the night before. Before they have chance to figure out what has happened, they come to the realisation that there’s an alien spacecraft hovering outside their window. Confined to Julia’s apartment, the pair must not only deal with the looming outside threat, but also the arrival of Julia’s ex-boyfriend, Tipo (Miguel Noguera), and her neighbour, Ángel (Carlos Areces).
Though steeped in science fiction lore – with the aliens remaining a silent, unpredictable threat for the entire course of the film – Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial is more of an intimate character study than anything else, and certainly works best when thought of in this way. However, no matter how much interplay there is between these disparate individuals, the route Vigalondo has opted for quickly wears thin, as it becomes clear the aliens are merely there as a plot device (we only ever see one eighth of a spaceship) to drive multiple wedges in the dynamic. Instead, the viewers are forced to ignore the greater threat and maintain interest in these four characters and the issues they have with each other. In all honesty, there’s only so much paranoia and tireless altercation any one person can realistically take.
Vigalondo has adopted a refreshingly grounded approach for Extraterrestrial, but the characters are too thinly-sketched for us to care about them as much as is needed, and there’s always the feeling that the alien story might be a more interesting one to investigate. That said, the directorial style is interesting enough, with Vigalondo using various genre techniques such as a constant television feed that’s being captured on a hand-held camera left outside the apartment. The cast do their best with what they have to work with. Villagrán and Jenner have some decent chemistry, while Areces invests enough mysteriousness into Ángel to keep everyone guessing as to his intentions. But the film as a whole feels too muddled to entertain and interest in equal amounts. Vigalondo may have done something bold in using an outside threat to bring out peoples real emotions and feelings, but Extraterrestrial feels unsatisfying in its execution and finale.
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