Here's a game: Jot down the plot elements you expect to see in a cabin-in-the-woods UFO horror flick before you settle in for the garishly effective Extraterrestrial. Odds are you could plot the picture out knowing nothing more than its premise, right down to the anal probes, the jokes about the anal probes, and one even more hackneyed plunge into the darkest of places: Yes, characters venture into an unlit basement to check the fusebox.
But if you take this stuff as tradition rather than cliché, Extraterrestrial might win you over in variety and execution -- that's "execution" in both meanings, as the film improves markedly once its unappealing cast starts becoming chum for E.T.s. Great slabs of red light give the alien-invasion scenes unsettling power, and writer-director team the Vicious Brothers spring some first-rate shock-scares: The willowy, black-eyed spaceman out the window here is much scarier than the one that professional real-life UFO profiteer Stan Romanek insisted was real on 20/20 a few years back.
And the bits you couldn't guess before going in are doozies, especially the one where the dude handcuffs himself to a tree to escape being sucked up into a flying saucer's light-shaft tractor beam.
The tone's a mess -- a scene of strong, desperate, grandly icky escape-from-alien-muck horror is jammed up against that comically extravagant probing, which features something like whirring garbage-disposal blades. All My Children's Brittany Allen proves herself a big-screen presence as the lead earthling; her commitment to each scene's emotional truth is all the more impressive considering that the schoolboyish Vicious Brothers introduce her character ass-first.