For a film title invoking aliens, “Extra Terrestres” is remarkably earthbound, hyperfocusing on the moment astrophysicist Teresa (Marisé Alvarez) comes out to her conservative family in Puerto Rico. In the backdrop of Teresa’s attempts to break the news, the family business — a poultry farm headed by authoritarian patriarch Arcadio (Sunshine Logroño) — is suffering from various attacks that threaten its solvency.
Director Carla Cavina Meléndez brings a warm, authentic tone to the familial interactions of the film, highlighting the ways in which sibling and parental love can be obfuscated by surface level tensions. The film’s strength is in that emotional core, but the execution — namely the editing — feels at times too long and at others choppy.
Plenty of screen time is devoted to interspersed shots of pulsating stars in space and non-plot scenes of Teresa’s partner Daniela (Prakriti Maduro) driving her Prius around the observatory in the Canary Islands — build-up to a space event whose scientific importance isn’t really touched on. Perhaps ironically, though, “Extra Terrestres” has one of the most authentic portrayals of astrophysicists, and astronomy in general, in recent memory — some of the visuals are off, but from a scientific perspective, the film gets almost everything right (the same can’t be said for most big-budget sci-fi thrillers).
The portrayal of the family, from the comic relief brought by Teresa’s brother Junior (Yamil Collazo) to the secret, illicit activities of her sister Andrea (Laura Aleman), is an instantly relatable dynamic, but the focus on family at times makes the intercuts of space feel gratuitous and highlights the restricted role Daniela is given as a character.
It’s a story that both concerns itself with and ignores queerness — an oft-accurate reflection of reality, though perhaps not one that guides the cleanest narrative.
While “Extra Terrestres” could use another pass through the editing booth for some trimming and tightening — and should have featured Daniela’s character more wholeheartedly — the film accomplishes its most important task: emphasizing the difficulties of being authentic around family and the joy that can result from opening up.
There will be screenings of ‘Extra Terrestres’ on Saturday, June 17 at 9:15 p.m. at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco and on Thursday, June 22 at 9:30 p.m. at the Rialto Cinemas Elmwood in Berkeley as part of Frameline41, the San Francisco International LGBTQ Film Festival.