Sex, Lies, and Alien Videotape?
I have to admit, after watching Nacho Vigalondo‘s sci-fi hit Timecrimes, a different tone was expected from Extraterrestrial. Something darker and more sinister. Something with an apocalyptic bite or evil alien conquerors. Yet, here I was watching a sci-fi script that played with hints of Seinfeld situational awkward comedy that completely agreed with director Jason Reitman,who compared Vigalondo to Woody Allen.
Could this tonal surprise be viewed as a bad thing? Possibly, depending on your expectations, but I’ll delve deeper into that issue a tad bit later. Instead, enjoy the delightfully light-hearted sci-fi/romance mash-up Vigalondo created and don’t dwell on what could have been. Be thankful for the art and you’ll be able to appreciate Nacho’s hybrid genre crossing film..
So how does this Woody Allen comparison come about? Much like Annie Hall, or most films from Allen’s arsenal for that matter, characters interact on a neurotic and believable human level. No fake or forced emotions. No glitz and glam of Hollywood. No falsified characteristics of fantasy poster children. Just everyday people clumsily reacting to situations as you or I would.
Enter Vigalondo’s cheeky script about a love diamond (four people? Kite maybe because they’re all connected?) caught in the middle of a spectacular event. Characters attempt to cavort around in close quarters, telling lies and keeping secrets as some immature school children would. But herein lay Vigalondo’s writing strengths which ultimately draw the Allen nod. Characters begin using what could possibly be impending doom to their own advantage, spinning speculated extraterrestrial stories to explain the phenomena but also to cover their own tracks.
Each mind is more focused on surviving each other than surviving what might wait for them outdoors. Actual aliens almost become an afterthought at points but Vigalondo creates wonderfully quirky dialogue and Extraterrestrial‘s story becomes more and more entangled in deceit as we wait for the falsified dam to break. Under all the dirty deeds and lies exists a touching love story too, one that requires an emotional journey to uncover.
Without proper players, Vigalondo’s vision would have been lost though. We only have four main characters to focus on and they come in the form of Julio (Julián Villagrán), Julia (Michelle Jenner), Ángel (Carlos Areces) and Carlos (Raúl Cimas).
Julián Villagrán and the stunning Michelle Jenner display comical yet honest emotions between two people who only interacted through an assumed drunken one night stand, complete with excruciatingly uncomfortable introductions. As their relationship progresses and trust is built, cat and mouse antics are carried out with a playful chemistry that lights up the screen.
Then enter Raúl Cimas as the boyfriend and Carlos Areces as the nosey/jealous next door neighbor. Dynamics shift as the drama gets juicy and danger levels rise, but again each character’s actions are kept hilariously in perspective as aliens still exist above them. Our cat and mouse game then shifts from Julio and Julia’s flirtation to Julio and Julia keeping their secret affair from Ángel as he does his best to destroy both relationships.
Hilarity ensues, shenanigans are had, but none of the actors ever break Vigalondo’s humorous yet mysterious tone. A humanistic realism exudes from each character as well, just trying to make sense of a predicament too grand to possibly even grasp while still keeping emotions at bay.
But with the presence of flying alien transportation, there are some sci-fi expectations. Encounters, attacks, exchanges, probing…I mean, whatever you’re into really. That being said, the aliens are severely underused, existing more as a reminder or metaphor at times. Sure, their existence impacted the actions of our characters by presenting excuses for them to use, but one can’t help feel as if Vigalondo cheated us out of some serious space man screen time. And by cheated us, I mean, where was it?
Aware of the comedy Vigalondo achieved by leaving the aliens unexplained, some interaction could have helped spice up Extraterrestrial. It’s fun watching the group and all, but their childish games become long-winded at times and could have used an earth-shaking event to offer some relief. I’d say actually exploring the alien race would have provided said break in pace. For the true sci-fi survival/action fan, stick to films like Attack The Block or upcoming The Watch for a more intense yet comedic ride.
Extraterrestrial represents unique filmmaking with genuine representation, teetering the line of sci-fi ”Mumblecore.” Nacho Vigalondo‘s sophomore effort is certainly a pleasure to watch in terms of subtle creativity, offering a lesser seen take on the sci-fi genre that opens new viewers to a very specified genre. Tighter focus is put on character analysis over the sci-fi elements suggested, rooting deep connections with our cast but possibly turning off some hardcore viewers wanting something fierce.
Our aliens exist as a piece to a puzzle, but once their purpose is discovered, Extraterrestrial elevates itself amongst the clouds representing romantic enlightenment. And for those not interested mixing lovey-dovey feelings with their science fiction, plenty of laughs exist to distract.
Extraterrestrial comes out of left field with characteristic charm and unexpected plotlines, but it delights nonetheless and is a solid acquisition for Focus Features.