Timecrimes (or Los cronocrímenes) is perhaps one of the best loved time travel films out there, aside from Back to the Future, The Time Machine and Primer of course. In Nacho Vigalondo’s latest feature, Extraterrestrial, he treats us to a more humorous affair with a mixed bag of great romantic comedy-esqe tropes. There’s a lovely female lead, the unsure of himself male lead, even a quirky neighbor. But the difference here is that all those familiar elements are set against the back drop of an alien invasion. To fans of Vigalondo’s previous work, the Cary Grant/Merna Loy level of goofball antics in this film might seem like something out of left field, but that’s not a bad thing to see Vigalondo spreading his wings.
Extraterrestrial stars Julian Villagran (Julio) and Michelle Jenner (Julia) as two people who wake up after a one night stand. Their memory of the past night is gone but the more important issue at hand is their future. Outside Julia’s window is an alien spacecraft roughly 4 miles wide. No need to call for help, there’s no signal and the whole town has disappeared in the night. The two fumble with awkward conversations and learn that the only other people left, embarrassingly enough, are two men whom Julia also has had a fling with. Funnier still is that one of them is her “boyfriend”. She tries to keep them all in the dark and this shell game proves to be a bigger elephant in the room than the spacecraft hovering outside. From start to finish it’s a comedy of well placed errors which show that even in what seems like the end of the world there’s still time for jealousy and a loopy love triangle…or rectangle rather.
In the vein of Cary Grant films (My Favorite Wife quickly comes to mind) it’s a mad-cap game of lies and deceit. It’s a light-hearted rouse and Julia really steals the show from her 3 other male stars. From her first daytime encounter with Julio, to dealing with he endlessly possessive and jealous neighbor Angel (Carlos Areces) and her so-called boyfriend Carlos (Raul Cimas), this game of hot potato brings the laughs with a meager helping of slapstick. The funny and seriou parts have a little trouble meshing/co-existing as they both seem too strong individually to exist in the same film but it’s a mild distraction.
As fans of Los cronocrímenes can attest, Vigalondo is a master at small scale character based stories. Weaving just enough sci-fi into the mix to keep it interesting and original, it’s crafty and comes across like an Oscar-caliber soap opera. Yet while soap operas (or more fittingly telenovelas) are so stereotypical and banal, what makes this story worth the time is the depth given to Julio, Julia, Angel and Carlos. On the surface it may see very cut and dry, replete with one-dimensional characters, but the emotions, humor and wit Vigalondo inserts is weighty and refreshing. Also he’s very handy at misdirection and slow reveals and Extraterrestrial has more than its fair share. It’s not what you’d expect going in but quickly readjust your perceptions and this should keep your interest while tickling your funny bone at the same time.
It’s good to see a departure for Nacho Vigalondo as he’s not likely to be a filmmaker who will pigoen-hole himself. Different from Los cronocrímenes for sure, this more light-hearted fare is just as crafty and engaging. After thinking about it for a day or two the story really is a lot of fun and even if you were biding time with quirky romantic comedy patiently waiting for an alien to show up, you would do well to think back to Los cronocrímenes. There wasn’t need for a fancy time machine (save for a bathtub and a bright light) but you probably didn’t mind once it got moving, did ya? Same story here…see, told you Nacho was crafty.