Director captures audience with follow-up film

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Extraterrestrial
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo
Vértigo Films; 90 mins.

Aliens invasion sideshow in comedic film’s character study

Nacho Vigalondo is a mainstay of the Austin film scene at this point, his presence always highly anticipated at Fantastic Fest, where his debut film, “Timecrimes,” won several awards in 2007. “Timecrimes” was all about the structure, and puzzling out its script made for a fun, challenging bit of sci-fi. However, his follow-up film “Extraterrestrial” is entirely different and an interesting declaration that he won’t be repeating himself, even as he continues to engage in genre-heavy storytelling.

“Extraterrestrial” begins with Julio (Julián Villagrán) waking up in a strange apartment one morning, which he soon learns belongs to Julia (Michelle Jenner). The two engage in typical morning-after antics, carefully straddling the line between courtesy and awkwardness, until they realize they slept through the arrival of a looming spacecraft over their Spanish city. Holing up in Julia’s apartment, the two are soon greeted by her boyfriend, Carlos (Raúl Cimas), and have to contend with Julia’s creepily smitten neighbor, Ángel (Carlos Areces). Scrambling to cover the evidence of their dalliance, the two tell a few little white lies about their alien invaders that soon snowball into a maelstrom of paranoia.

Vigalondo is playing a pretty bold game with his audience, asking them to side with characters who are committing some selfish, hurtful acts to cover their own asses. However, Vigalondo’s script keeps both characters grounded and relatively relatable, and Villagran and Jenner have solid, tangible chemistry, especially when she turns up the smolder. Vigalondo also avoids dwelling on the actions of his heroes, instead preferring to focus on the comedy that comes from the intricate web of lies they weave throughout the film.

“Extraterrestrial” takes place mostly in a single location, but never feels stagnant or repetitive. Vigalondo films the apartment creatively, and there are sweeping, cinematic reminders that this is much more than a one-location melodrama with a sci-fi backdrop.

The film is strongly acted by its four principal figures, and Cimas was particularly impressive. Carlos is one of the film’s unsung heroes, a truly decent guy who slips into survival mode with a little too much enthusiasm and it’s an applaudable performance. Meanwhile, Areces (who played a similarly sad sack role in “The Last Circus” is notable for his willingness to play Angel as a sad and rejected little mole with no place to go, easily navigating the character between menacing and misunderstood.

“Extraterrestrial” isn’t what many would be expecting from the director of “Timecrimes,” and some might say he wastes his concept by focusing on these figures who are completely insignificant in the context of the larger story. However, this is a strength more than a weakness, and the care that Vigalondo takes in defining these human characters just trying to exist in a world with aliens makes “Extraterrestrial” a flawed but entertaining mixture of science fiction and romantic comedy.