“Maybe the spacemen will give us diplomas”
You wake in a strange place without memory of arriving. You see light’s curved shadows on the wall through clouded eyes while a chorus of clanging is heard in the next room. Disoriented, mildly frightened, and without a clue to what is going on, you’re lost trying to recall the erased minutes of an alcohol-infused evening eerily similar to a crackpot’s account of alien abduction. But rather than a greyed creature with probe in hand, the figure moving in the kitchen is an attractive young woman wearing only a t-shirt. As startled as you by the circumstances of your cohabitation, the realization of what more than likely transpired in your drunken haze only escalates a palpable awkwardness further. A one-night stand that forgot to end, your embarrassed goodbyes are interrupted after discovering the spaceship hovering outside the window.
This is our introduction to Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) as they catch each other’s names for what may be the first time. It’s the perfect opening from writer/director Nacho Vigalondo because of the parallels existing between a hangover and alien kidnapping when both could be feasible excuses for their lost time in the context of the story. Without a second to fathom the possibilities, however, an apparent invasion looks to either be complete or in progress as a ship floats down the quiet road devoid of live. Cell reception is gone, the television is without signal, and the crippling fear of what may happen soon causes their uncomfortable duo to wonder what their next move should be. Most would probably run in hopes of a military pick-up or the shelter of land far from the ships’ sightlines, but these two simply stay put.
And this is the genius of Extraterrestre [Extraterrestrial]. Whereas most apocalyptic visions of antagonistic invaders from outer space would deal with issues of survival, war, and death, Vigalondo turns the subject on its head by portraying the actions of regular people biding time in hiding. Julio has a beautiful woman all to himself and Julia reciprocates while tiptoeing around a nagging secret about to surface. They both like each other—the alcohol didn’t cloud attraction—but what can one do when the end of the world looms? Some things must trump others in situations of life and death, right? Lust should be quelled in the face of mortality, not become the distraction needed to stay put while the more heroic solve the crisis. After all, isn’t watching humanity band together for a singular cause what audiences want to see?
The truth, though, is that a lot of fun can occur from the selfish actions of liars, cheats, and those with misguided ideas of grandeur amidst a paranoia-induced reality of the impossible. While Julio and Julia slept off their bender, the world kept going. Her stalker neighbor Ángel (Carlos Areces) stayed behind in hopes of being the last man on Earth for the woman he pines over and her ex-boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas) realizes a need to make sure she is okay despite being safe at a refugee camp. Converging on their covert tryst, the unlikely group is intertwined within a series of manipulations pitting them against each other by planting the seed of alien infiltration. The possibility each can be an extraterrestrial copy is just real enough to wash insecurity away and accept ‘extreme measures’.
A tale of budding romance against the backdrop of potential annihilation, our new lovers begin to use the crisis to their favor. Hoping Carlos never finds out about the affair—because some things are more important than extinction—a lie by exclusion snowballs into a conspiracy theory with the goal of getting Julio and Julia back together. It’s a humorous conceit that gets more so as characters refuse to back down to the lies by either fighting against or buying into them with every fiber of their being. A petty war between immature acquaintances ends up usurping the real battle at hand as the label ‘alien’ is bandied about while fear manifests into acts of violence. The three men who love Julia find they’ll stop at nothing to save her and love her completely once humanity regains control.
The cast buys into the absurdity of their situation and goes for broke, pushing the sprawling fabrication to a point where paranoid reasoning recalls past events and proves the lies as fact. Cimas is comedic gold—so full of himself that he believes he’s the world’s salvation. With notebooks of intel and a scary knowledge of bomb making, Julio and Julia’s crazy story only fuels his out of control vigilantism instead of buckling under its weight of deceit. Areces shines as the creeper next door—a coward at heart wearing his love for Julia on his sleeve, his patsy finds the strength to orchestrate one of the funniest acts of nonviolent vengeance I’ve seen. Between peaches and tennis balls, innocuous materials end up integral tools for over-the-top theatrics. And Miguel Noguera arrives sporadically as a newscaster on his last straw to provide some of the film’s biggest laughs.
Vigalondo may put his visual stamp on the work—the scenes falsely verifying lies bear a striking resemblance to Timecrimes‘ use of expository flashback—but it’s Jenner and Villagrán’s performances that truly shine. Their characters ‘write’ Extraterrestrial through selfish actions that show they’re interested in nothing but their own happiness. Possessing a fantastic rapport through facial expressions alone, they cringe when telling their convoluted yarns yet still dupe those listening because of the impossible situation outside. Anything can happen when the world ends and it’s a blast to see the common man use such an horrific event to their benefit instead of falling prey to hopelessness. Never seeing an alien or discovering the meaning behind their arrival, we instead catch a glimpse of our own fallible nature reconciling pleasure of the flesh with the intrinsic desire to survive.