Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial is an out-and-out bait-and-switch movie. But while the title and film’s opening setup may lead you to believe you’re going down the road of typical alien-invasion sci-fi, the romantic comedy journey that the film takes instead makes for a very enjoyable alternate route.
Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) wake up in her apartment the morning after what may or may not have been a one-night stand. But that bit of awkwardness is quickly eclipsed by the shocking discovery that their neighborhood—as well as much of the world—is under the shadow of very large spaceships. What’s more, much of the global population has seemingly disappeared as well.
Soon enough, the couple must deal with the unwanted company and attention of her prying next-door neighbor with a crush, Ángel (Carlos Areces), as well as the return of her estranged and comically oblivious boyfriend, Carlos (Raúl Cimas). In various combinations, they try to figure out what the intentions of the aliens are, whether or not one may have infiltrated their ranks, and what happened to all of the other people. But the more important questions that can’t be overshadowed by a huge spaceship remain: who has slept with whom and who knows about it.
Vigalondo, who directed 2007’s Timecrimes, does himself a favor by casting two romantic leads (as well as the cuckolded third wheel) with actors that are left-of-center attractive but share a genuine, unforced chemistry. In the admittedly scaled-down, modest production, those actors and their performances are allowed to carry the day, leaving us much more concerned with the growing attraction and affection of the new couple and how they will negotiate that budding romance and find stolen moments without alerting and upsetting the boyfriend and the neighbor.
Extraterrestrial is more charming than gut-busting funny (as far as the comedy part of “romantic comedy” is concerned). But in the end, the success of the film is that it unassumingly achieves what bloated-budget special-effects studio films like Battle Los Angeles or Battleship (or any other film with “battle” in the title involving an alien invasion) can’t: it shows the best of humanity through the sheer acts of love, generosity, and kindness.