This past week I finally managed to watch Xtro, a 1983 British science fiction horror film directed by Harry Bromley Davenport. I first heard about the film when it was discussed on RedLetterMedia’s show Best of the Worst, where they deemed their selection of the film an accident because they found it to have legitimate quality. This piqued my curiosity, so watching it this Halloween season became a priority of mine.
Sam and his son Tony are playing at their cottage in the country when Sam is suddenly abducted by a blinding light. Three long years later the alien creature that Sam has become returns, conspiring to take Tony and his mother back with him.
I find Xtro a more difficult film to put my finger on than I thought I would. I went into it hoping I would love it — which I admit was the wrong approach — and I cannot say I finished feeling that way. I liked the movie a lot and I understand why it is considered a cult classic, but it felt a few key points short of being something great in the B movie subgenre.
Firstly, however, there are a number of things I really liked about the movie. The creature design for the alien was very well done. It looked quite creepy, especially how its body was jointed in unnatural ways compared to human anatomy. I actually wish there was more if the creature present, but I do feel that its absence was justified well enough by path of the narrative. There was a lot of creative creepy imagery as well — especially the fate of Analise, Tony’s au pair — that made the film quite memorable.
The premise of the story is quite appealing to me too. The idea of a father being abducted by aliens but believed to have simply run off created an interesting type of tension. Between the awkwardness of his return to his family’s life and the audience’s knowledge of his more horrific side, I was left very curious about what direction the story would take.
Unfortunately, this direction (plot-wise) was fairly straightforward and unfocused. There was a lot of creepy imagery, as I said, but a lot wasn’t in service of a clear plot or progression of the story. This made for an interesting viewing experience, but not a very compelling one.
I think what really hindered the story, which could have been rather suspenseful, was how much they revealed about Sam and his intentions. Had his intentions been unclear at first, and the creature saved more for the climax than the beginning of the movie, I think the story could have been a lot more compelling. Just knowing he’d been abducted and then suddenly returned would have been enough, in my opinion, to create the unique tension I described above.
Additionally, a clear protagonist did not feel established, which made me care little for what happened to the characters on screen. The only one I really felt any sympathy for was Joe, the step-dad figure most compromised by Sam’s unexpected return, and even that was fleeting. I felt too disconnected from what was happening to the people on screen than I though I should have.
Ultimately, if you’re a fan of B movies, science fiction, and horror, I would recommend watching Xtro. It isn’t the most compelling narratively, but it is competently put together with rather original, eerie, and grotesque ideas that make it a worthwhile experience.