A former Episcopal priest named Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) lives on a farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania with his asthmatic son (Rory Culkin) and his daughter Bo (Abigail Breslin). His brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix) is a failed minor-league baseball player and lives on the farm. Graham’s wife (Patricia Kalember) died six months earlier and he has lost his faith.
Crop circles appear in the fields. At first, they are attributed to vandals. Then, similar circles pop up all over the world and lights from invisible objects hover over Mexico and elsewhere. One night, Graham and Merrill find a tall dark man on the farm and chase him into the field, where he disappears. Then another one appears in the corn and there are clicking noises on the baby monitor.
Ray Reddy (M. Night Shyamalan), the man responsible for the accident that killed Graham’s wife, calls Graham and hangs up. Graham finds him sitting in his car, and he confesses remorse for what he has done. He intends to drive into a lake, thinking the aliens avoid water. He tells Graham that he has an alien locked in his pantry. Graham goes in and looks under the door using a kitchen knife as a mirror. The alien tries to attack him, and he cuts off its fingers.
A worldwide alien invasion begins, and the family barricades itself inside the house. Aliens breach the house, and the family flees to the basement. Morgan has an asthma attack. They emerge when the radio says the alien attack has ended, but some aliens have been left behind. An alien with missing fingers enters the house and takes Morgan hostage.
Graham’s wife’s dying words were “swing away”, which he never understood. Bo has been leaving glasses of water all over the house. As the alien attacks Morgan with toxic gas, Graham tells Merrill to swing away with his baseball bat, which knocks the alien into the glasses of water, and it is scalded until it dies. The toxic gas did not kill Morgan because his asthma attack prevented him from breathing it in. Graham decides that this is evidence of a higher power, and he returns to the Church.
The film was directed by M. Night Shyamalan, and it is obviously his work—simple, moody, suspenseful, strange, seriously creepy at times, and if you ask me, brilliant. He produced it as well, with Frank Marshall, Kathleen Kennedy, and Sam Mercer. It was nominated for several awards and was, like all Shyamalan movies, controversial. Mostly, critics praised it. The problem for him is that his first work, The Sixth Sense, was his best. Orson Welles had the same problem.
Saleka Shyamalan, M. Night’s daughter, created the extra-terrestrial artwork. The crop circles were real, not CGI. A birthday party alien-invasion on TV in the movie has been named one of the scariest scenes of all time. The cinematographer Yak Fujimoto also did the Sixth Sense. The aliens appear in the movie for one and a half minutes. Most alien invasion movies feature the scientists or the military figures who are in the middle of the action, but this is like a side-story of what is happening to little people, and it sticks with you.