Tony’s father Sam, abducted by aliens three years earlier, returns to earth and seeks out his wife and son, but Rachel has since been living with Joe and the reunion is awkward. Joe doesn’t trust Sam, and Rachel can’t quite decide what her feelings are for her two men. Sam is not the same as when he left, and he begins affecting Tony in frightening ways.
In the opening moments of Xtro, a man is implanted into a victim’s stomach, where he grows and eventually crawls out whole. The physics of this isn’t explained, the only line of sight we get being a couple of legs and a distended stomach. But the visual sums up Xtro quite well as a whole – the movie is very much interested in bizarre imagery that it never wants to explain. For the most part, it’s a conceit that works because of its strangeness, but it also leaves the viewer questioning the film’s direction.
Xtro stars Bernice Stegers as Rachel, a woman left to raise her son Tony (Simon Nash) with her new boyfriend Joe (Danny Brainin) after her husband disappears. It’s been three years since Sam (Philip Sayer) mysteriously dropped off the face of the earth, and Tony is having trouble coping with it – he has nightmares about flashes of bright light in the sky, and he doesn’t accept Joe as a father figure. Lucky for Tony, Sam’s about to come back into his life after he is reborn on Earth in a woman’s body, although he’s changed from the normal loving father-figure he apparently used to be. Now he’s eating snake eggs, burning phones with his bare hands, and sucking on little boy’s necks.
The film’s direction by Harry Bromley Davenport is in line with films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers; it’s clear that the aliens of Xtro aren’t friendly, and they’re attempting to take over human hosts as a way to colonize the planet. The film’s use of this generic plot is only as a base for the more creative elements of the rest of the movie; there’s a lot of alien stuff going on, and it’s all drawn from films that do it particularly better than this one.
There’s a chest-burster type scene from Alien; there’s a strange moment where Tony’s toys come to life for no apparent reason other than that Tony, as an alien boy, now has the power to make them do that, and there’s an emphasis on goopy, gooey gore that reminds of Troma flicks. Xtro uses all of them to its advantage; it’s fun to watch everything happen in a jumble all at once with no rhyme or reason.
The film tries to make sense of it all in the last few moments of the film, but there’s a lot of exposition that it feels we’re lacking. Sam and Tony begin to lose their skin, as though the alien inside of them is actually rotting the person-skin away. But for all of its surprises, Xtro fails to explain most of them. There’s no rules in this film, apparently: the aliens can come in any phase they like; they can be born either in a person or as an egg; they can suck on a person and make them become an alien; they can also suck on a person and impregnate them or something like that. You see how it gets confusing?
With that said, there are some effective scenes in the film. One in particular comes from a creepy toy soldier who hunts down the woman in an apartment under Tony who complains and kills his snake. The plastic soldier’s movement is off-kilter, and the emotionless face evokes fear thanks to the uncanny valley effect. The special effects are fantastic as well, done with makeup and buckets of red glop that gives all of the blood and gore a thick, sticky appearance.
Maryam d’Abo spends a lot of her time naked as Analise, and although her character feels sort of out of place in the film because her presence is never explained, she provides one of the most likable persons in the film. Rachel and Joe are both too overdramatic; to be honest, the most empathetic characters are actually the aliens, Sam being the main draw as a developed character.
That might be part of the point in Xtro, though. Maybe we are supposed to empathize more with the aliens, at least in part; the grim ending of the film indicates that the alien race will be taking over and humans are powerless to stop it. Perhaps the viewer is meant to accept the strange behavior of the aliens as normalcy, because soon that will be the case for humanity in the film. Either that, or you’re just supposed to take Xtro at face value and enjoy it for what it is.