★★★★ (out of 5 stars)
(available now on VOD; DVD July 17)
Spanish export Nacho Vigalondo made a fine first impression with his 2008 feature debut, the casually sly Timecrimes, and the writer-director continues to substitute ingenuity for spectacle with sci-fi rom-com follow-up Extraterrestrial.
It should be made clear from the top that, title and premise aside, an unexplained alien invasion factors as much into the plot as the monsters of Monsters or the other Earth in Another Earth did in those films. The appearance of spaceships over Madrid serves chiefly as a catalyst for Julio (Julián Villagrán) and Julia (Michelle Jenner) to hole up in her apartment after their one-night stand. Without phones or Internet, the duo can only guess what's going on outside, and once amorous neighbor Ángel (Carlos Areces) and Julia's oblivious boyfriend, Carlos (Raúl Cimas), arrive, Julio y Julia begin weaving lies to cover up their indiscretion, the ramifications of which will soon spread to an already panicked Madrid.
What follows is Carnage by way of cockblocking, a droll screwball farce more imaginative than most modern romantic comedies as Julia tries to rationalize her ongoing trysts with Julio while each of her male suitors humiliate themselves to win her trust, and are made all the more paranoid by their familiarity with conventional alien invasion movies. Much like Timecrimes, there are only four main characters and about as many settings, but everyone plays their part to the hilt: Villagrán and Jenner have tremendous chemistry together, Areces gives good creep, and Cimas is convincingly reactionary as the story (seemingly) develops.
And all the while, a big fat metaphor looms overhead for how people don't need a threat from outer space as an excuse to invade the sanctity of a relationship or the privacy of their neighbors, so long as social norms are sent askew by forces greater than their own. If you only see one film this month about characters seeking a friend for the end of the world, this is the more charming of the two.