Julio and Julia have done a bad thing: they've indulged in a drunken one-night stand even though Julia has a boyfriend. They'll spend the rest of Extraterrestrial, writer-director Nacho Vigalondo's sci-fi comedy of cuckolding—a cynical and screwball study of love and suspicion—trying to cover it up, trying to do it again, and finally trying to undo the damage and walk away. Following their tipsy tryst, the accidental lovers awaken to an abandoned Madrid and four mile-wide UFOs hovering above. (Yes, they slept through the evacuation.) The movie, though, stays confined to Earth, rarely leaving Julia's modernist apartment and its tangle of romantic jealousies, exacerbated by the aliens' presence and the isolation of the four main characters—including said boyfriend and Julia's lovelorn neighbor—who're among the few who've stayed behind.
Vigalondo uses genre as a way into romantic relationships. His debut, 2008's Timecrimes, was on its face a wacky time-travel puzzle that kept folding in on itself. But at heart, it was a story about a middle-aged man grappling with his marriage. Here, the presence of aliens is used to cover up infidelity, becoming the basis of lies used to foment mistrust and exacerbate romantic rivalries. The main characters are all exposed as petty people, exploiting extraordinary circumstances for trivial personal purposes. The proverbial monsters have arrived on La Calle Arce.
Despite the great and terrible lengths to which the characters go to save themselves—their endless, intricate scheming—they seem to mean well. The problem is communication: Extraterrestrial illustrates the problems that arise when couples and lovers don't tell each other what they're feeling. (Instead they surveil each other electronically and sulk.) Civilization collapses and the characters are forced to forage food, rig generations, navigate military barricades and watch pirate UHF broadcasts. But it's not so bleak, really—civilization collapses, but into farce. Though the movie highlights how easy it is to mistrust one another, how easy it is to believe the worst about our friends and neighbors, it also embraces a curious point of view—that, eventually, you can lie your way out of anything.
Extraterrestrial screens tomorrow night and again on December 15. More info here.