I have a soft spot for this movie. I remember seeing it in the theatre and during some scenes everyone in the theatre was dead silent, with their hands frozen in the popcorn and staring at the screen. I noticed because I was too scared and I wanted to look elsewhere but the screen. To this day, I still consider it one of the scariest movies that I have ever seen. There are some really tense and creepy moments in this film.
- The Brazilian birthday tape. Move children! Vamanos!
- Mel Gibson tucking in his daughter and seeing the silhouette of a creature on the roof of the shed.
- The creature in the kitchen behind the door.
- The little green leg in the cornfield and Gibson’s light going off.
The overall buildup of mystery is amazingly well done. From a little cracking babyphone to the dog going mad, the tension is going up. And here and there, there is a moment of levity. Joaquin Phoenix dons a tinfoil hat, just to be sure. Bless Phoenix in any case for an amazing performance. The way he freaks out in front of the TV and how he is part of the family. The little girl (Abigail Breslin) is really good for a child actor, but the boy (Rory Culkin) annoyed me with his cocky “child wisdom”.
Another reason why some parts of the film work so well is the outstanding music. Composer James Newton Howard is the best thing about the Shyamalan films. His music rolls in overlaying rhythms of repeated motifs that feels like it comes in waves. It lifts the scary scenes to a scarier level, and the catharsis at the end of the movie is made much more emotional.
This is the M. Night Shyamalan movie that appeals to me the most, mainly because of the subject of aliens terrorizing a family in a cornfield, and because of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix and because of the many well done scenes. Of course, the movie gets ruined for many people because its story completely falls apart once you start thinking about it. Aliens who are burned by water?
There is a fan theory that the aliens are really demons, and it actually makes a lot more sense, even though the movie portrays them as aliens. Perhaps demons in the guise of aliens? Because the film is about Mel Gibson losing and rediscovering his faith, which the invasion triggers. The water could be likened to holy water, and the news broadcaster mentions that the first advance against the aliens happens in the Middle-East. Whatever Shyamalan’s ideas about this, it is just not very smart to take a science-fiction trope and expect people to regard it metaphorically. Show me an alien and I will think about it in that way.
Whatever way you want to spin it, it remains a very typical story about “bad things happen for a reason” and in the most explicit way of God striking humanity with a disaster so that people start believing again. Or what about God killing the preacher’s wife? It doesn’t make sense to me to the point that it is practically insulting to me. It is not a message that I can digest properly and if you force it down my throat, I’ll spit it up again. Shyamalan has some serious storytelling issues, which subsequent films like Lady in the Water and The Last Airbender made clear beyond all doubt.
But the movie itself is so involving and mysterious that I am willing to overlook all of this, all of this crap, this nauseating crap, and like it. It does some things very well.