Nacho Vigalondo’s debut feature, 2007’s Timecrimes, made the most of its tiny budget, using just a few locations and a few actors to tell a funny, exciting, even poignant story, set in an increasingly constricting time-loop. Vigalondo’s second film, Extraterrestrial, tries to maintain that level of simplicity and tautness, but the outcome is less impressive. The film begins with Julián Villagrán waking up in the apartment of Michelle Jenner, though neither of them remember how they ended up in bed together. Then Jenner’s boyfriend (Raúl Cimas) comes home, forcing the couple to scramble to explain themselves. Also, there are huge spaceships hovering over Madrid, and the few people remaining in the city have scant information about what’s happening. Most of Extraterrestrial takes place in Jenner’s apartment, as Cimas plans to thwart the aliens, while the lovers try to hide their affair. The result is a science-fiction thriller in which the most significant action takes place offscreen.
Did Vigalondo intend to make a constrained alien-invasion movie, then come up with the romantic triangle to add an extra layer of tension to Cimas’ efforts to ferret out aliens in disguise? Or is he using the invasion as a metaphor for Villagrán’s intrusion into another couple’s life? Either approach would’ve be fine, if it was supported by a script with lively dialogue and surprising plot twists. But while Timecrimes has that, Extraterrestrial doesn’t. Instead, it’s a lightly comic genre piece where not much happens and no one has much amusing to say. The conversations are primarily functional: The characters explain who they are, where they are, what they see, and what they’re planning to do, but they only occasionally get philosophical or witty. There’s a solid framework in place here for a fun, original twist on a conventional science-fiction premise, but aside from the occasional quirky touch—a luminous jar of peaches, a parade float in the shape of a coffee cup, a weirdo neighbor who torments Villagrán with a tennis-ball cannon—Vigalondo fails to fill that frame with a picture worthy of it.