Extraterrestrial begins with a man and a woman waking up together, neither quite clear about who the other person is. It’s exactly the kind of opening we might expect from Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo, who previously gave us the bizarrely complex Time Crimes, but unlike that head scratcher, Extraterrestrial ends up far easier to understand (although it might be just as difficult to explain). The woman in Extraterrestrial’s opening scene lives in the apartment and her name is Julia (played by Michelle Jenner), and the man who wakes up next to her with no recollection of the night before is Julio (Julián Villagrán). Not quite sure if they had a one-night stand (although all signs point to it), Julia’s plans to get Julio to leave are thwarted when they realize that the world appears to be in the middle of an alien invasion. Enter Ángel (Carlos Areces), the neighborly stalker who refused to evacuate because he knew his next-door beauty Julia was still home, and he didn’t want to leave without her. Distrustful of each other, Julio and Ángel are almost ready to just agree to disagree when Julia’s live-in boyfriend Carlos (Raúl Cimas) shows up, adding an extra person for suspicion. And then, someone suggests that one of them could be an alien in disguise, leading to paranoia. With each character obsessed with maintaining his or her beliefs (often in spite of obvious facts), they quickly lose sight of what is actually happening with the alien ship looming overhead.
A difficult movie to define with a simple label, Extraterrestrial is as much a darkly offbeat romantic comedy as it is a paranoid science fiction character study. As a sci-fi, we want to figure out if someone is indeed an extraterrestrial and who it is before the ending tells us. But lacking many outrageous special effects (although the shots of the alien ship are nice) and taking place mostly indoors, Extraterrestrial is a rather low budget science fiction that isn’t particularly interested in the science part. Meanwhile, as a romantic comedy, Julio and Julia seem like maybe they did sleep together – after all, the parting glances and lingering touches suggest sexual tension – but then again, her boyfriend Carlos seems like a pretty nice guy. Do we really want Julio and Julia to develop into a full-fledged romance? And while it’s hilarious at times to see Ángel (and really everyone) act so absurdly, there also becomes a moment where we can see our own absurd behaviors in the actions onscreen. It’s at times like this that Extraterrestrial really shines, becoming a human satire about the lengths we will go when trying to convince others of something we believe, especially when our beliefs are clearly wrong. With strong performances and a playful script, Extraterrestrial is an entertaining, oddball, paranoid rom-com.