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NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by bryll (with a little editing by Dan, the movie spoiler) who says...
"Apart from having a horrible ending that has everyone groaning and complaining is a little strange. It features it's director's patented very-very-slow plot development thing. I'll only really focus on things that are important for you to "know" to impress your friends and make them think you really shelled out the cash to see the movie.
Keep in mind that this movie is VERY slow paced. This means the tension builds very, VERY well, and the first 3/4 will most likely scare the socks off any viewer. Unfortunately the ending has people giggling and moaning. There's very little of the plot that was left out in this spoiler.
The main characters are Mel Gibson (small-town farmer & father of two), Joaquin Phoenix (brother of Mel, despite being umpteen years younger) and the two small children.
The mother died some time ago in a tragic accident which is alluded to throughout the movie before finally being explained in detail in a few flashbacks right at the climax of the film. Basically, his wife suffered a fate like something out of "ER" - pinned to a tree in a car accident so that she was able to impart some words of wisdom to her husband before expiring. In so doing, Mel Gibson lost his faith in the lord (he was a reverend) and left the church. The young daughter has a bizarre habit of half-finishing glasses of water and leaving them all about the house, much to everyone's annoyance. Remember this, as it's important later on.
The only other major roles are Cherry Jones (the town's cop) and the director himself as the regretful and solemn veterinarian who slammed Mel's wife into the tree.
As the story begins, Mel and Joaquin wake up to hear Mel's kids screaming. They go out into the fields to find the daughter rather upset. She's not hurt, and directs them to the son, who is staring blankly off into the distance. "I think god did it," says the child, and when Mel questions him, he turns his father's face to see the massive circular symbol broken into the crops. We pan out and see it's a series of giant symbols, in the grand tradition of all alien invasion movies (excluding ID4 :)
The first fifty minutes of the movie are setting up the "Aliens are going to invade!" theme of the movie, and this is all done using a very effective technique, involving a lot of silent moments and creepy events. There is little to no score during the fast half of the movie, either.
The animals start acting strangely, especially at night. Barking at "nothing" and peeing themselves for no reason. At night they hear something outside the house. Mel & Joaquin investigate, discovering something moving near the house. They decide to scare it and run around opposite sides of the house screaming and "cursing". When they run into each other at the front of the house, it's obvious they've spooked "something". They both stare at the roof in disbelief, asking "How did he get up there?"
In town we discover that Joaquin's character has a history as a hard-hitter in baseball. In fact, he set a minor league record for home runs including the furthest one ever hit. Unfortunatly, he always swung so hard that he also held the strikeout record which is why he never made it to the major leagues (important later on). We also meet the town's local recruiter for the army who has "figured out" what's going on. He tells Joaquin about how they're "probing" - sending a small force in to check us out before "the rest of them" come.
After this Mel's son takes up an interest in the aliens that are turning up. On the television there's reports of crop signs all over the world, all inland. When going into the town it's apparent that everybody else is a bit creeped out too. When coming back from the town they discover that the daughter's old baby monitor is picking up a transmission that ends as quickly as it begins - it's two aliens talking, apparently.
Mel tries to calm his family and convince them that it's all right. But the television begins to show "lights" appearing in the skies over Mexico City. Joaquin stays up all night watching the TV, and the next morning the lights are gone. He explains to Mel that some time during the morning a bird flew into something and smashed it's own head in, rather liked a bird running into a plate glass window it didn't see.
The final spooky event to provide us with proof that this is not a hoax comes when Mel goes out on his own at night in the corn fields with a flashlight.
He walks around a bit, makes loud fatherly "you'll get in trouble for this, son!" noises and finally drops his flashlight when he hears a strange noise. The light goes out. He picks it up and turns it on again, just in time to catch a thin gray foot disappearing into the corn. He freaks out and bolts back to the house.
Somewhere about this point in the movie he finds his kids with home- made tin foil hats on, declaring it's so that the aliens "Can't read their minds".
The phone rings. Nobody's on the other end, yet somehow Mel figures out that it's the guy who creamed his wife six months ago. He leaves the house, giving orders for nobody else to go out.
He arrives at the house and finds evidence of a fight, and the guy sitting in the front of his car, shocked and wounded. He apologizes for creaming Mel's wife six months ago and then tells him as he leaves "Don't go into the kitchen. I caught one in my pantry and locked him in there. And so Mel enters the house.
Right now we cut to Joaquin, who is blearily watching the television. "What you're about to see was filmed yesterday afternoon by a 37 year old man's birthday party for his 7 year old son. This may shock some viewers." This speech is followed by home video footage of a daytime party for some kids. The bushes shake and the kids get scared. The footage ends when we see a very skinny and tall alien leave the bushes and creep across the small unit's driveway past the family car. The kids are screaming so much that the scene is probably the most horrifying in the whole film. Joaquin slams himself back in horror at what he sees, but unfortunately the editors decide to close in on the freeze-frame of the alien, who on closer inspection resembles Spiderman plus some gray spraypaint.
Now we know what we're dealing with, we're seeing Mel walk into the house slowly and edge towards the pantry. He sees some movement, but it stops when he approaches. He uses a kitchen knife as a mirror and see under the door. A clawed gray hand grabs for it, and a scuffle ensues, during which Mel slams down the knife and cuts off some of the alien's fingers.
He returns home and tells his family that he saw a creature, and that although he "couldn't be sure" it seemed to want to harm him. He puts it to a vote - he heard a rumor that they dislike water, and suggests they head out to the lake. The family vote against him, and so they board up the doors and windows and prepare for the invasion.
How are boards going to stop them Joaquin asks. Mel says, "Apparently they have trouble with pantry doors."
The TV shows hundreds of lights all near the crop signs, and it's apparent a ship is right near them. They don't have enough wood to board up the top windows of the house, and board up the doors to the bedrooms instead. They have dinner and get into an argument, after which they make up - just as the TV goes dead and the baby monitors goes crazy with alien noises.
They huddle up together and hear/see figures walking past the windows at the front of the house. Mel tries to keep the family in high spirits by regaling them with tales of the kids being born, but Joaquin ruins the mood by declaring "They're on the roof" and then, finally, "They're in the house."
Then we the terrified group notice something very, very bad. There's a trapdoor on the ceiling. Oh shit, we're all going to die. They get to the cellar just in time and hold the door shut as the aliens try to open it in vain. The kid declares "the aliens are probably good problem solvers, they'll find a way in here," and so Joaquin & Mel start looking for the old Coal chute that Mel suddenly remembers being here. "I can feel air, we must be near!" they say. They focus the flashlight and see Mel's son standing in front of a grating on the wall. There's a horrified silence and son looks at them. He inquires "What?" just as a gray hand reaches out of the vent and grabs him. The flashlight is dropped blair-witch style and we see a massive fight.
They survive and Joaquin stacks up old fertilizer bags against the coal chute. The son (who has asthma) has an attack and Mel helps him through it despite not having his inhaler. Cut to the next morning... the radio kicks in. "The aliens have up and left!" it declares. Ok. Why? Who knows. They just took some humans and then left, it seems.
Tension mounts as they creep into the house. The TV is on, apparently showing humans gloating over their success. How did they fend off these fast, strong aliens who can't bash down pantry doors? We find out soon.
"Let me bring the TV in here," says Mel. The camera does a damn cool pan as the TV is rolled into the room with the kid, and in the TV as it comes to a halt we see a reflection - an Alien in the room.
(The audience really jumped here when I saw it)
Tense standoff ensues, and we see an alien in the darkness but nonetheless close up. It's holding Mel's son, kind of like a suicidal ransom thing. It's fingers are missing. A-ha! Revenge!
Mel flashes back on his wife dying, and her last words were something that amongst other things reminded him of Joaquin's baseball history. Mel reminds Joaquin about his wife's last words ("swing away") and Joaquin grabs the record setting bat that is hanging on the wall. The Alien secretes some deadly gas into the unconscious son's face, just as Joaquin proceeds to beat the living f@#k out of it.
Mel takes the son outside to give him his medication, and because he'd had an asthma attack he hadn't been breathing when the alien did the poison trick, the kid therefore being saved by his own ailment.
Meanwhile, Joaquin is beating the Alien into a bloody pulp. In the process, a glass of water tips over it's leg. It acts like a powerful acid, burning the Alien's skin! A dramatic music sting and a camera pan show the room is LITTERED with half-finished glasses of water, courtesy of the young girl. Joaquin smashes the alien back against a bookshelf, water tipping all over it's head (shown from a first-person perspective.)
All of the horrible events that have haunted Mel over the last few months and caused him to lose his faith have now shown him that God really has a plan. Everything from Joaquin's powerful bat swing, his daughters half full glasses, his son's asthma and even his dying wife's very last words, all prove to Mel that these all occurred for a reason and that reason just happened. God really did have a plan and was watching over them.
So, having defeated the Alien, we cut to obviously some time later. The kids are playing out back.... and Mel has regained his faith. He's in priest garb, getting ready to go out to church.
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