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When I first saw this film, I didn't realize that it wasn't about aliens at all. It's about the return of demons. Notice it's all about a priest's resurgence of belief, and a preordained moment of redemption-if-dared-and-attempted. There is no alien technology or weaponry or clothing of any kind, only a clawed, naked beast creature and lights in the sky.
Furthermore: The running joke throughout the movie is that people see these "invaders" in a way that's related to their particular frame of mind: The cop sees them as prankster kids, the bookstore owners see them as "a hoax to sell commercials," the Army recruitment officer sees them as invading military, the kids see them as UFOs... and the Priest sees them as test of faith. This understanding of the film removed my hatred of the "You've got to be kidding me; they were killed by WATER!" concept. In fact, the priest's daughter had been referred to as "holy" (as revealed during Mel's key monologue)–recognized by all who saw her at her birth as "an Angel;" and her quite particular relationship to water is shown to be very special and spiritual: In other words, she has placed vials of what are, essentially, HOLY WATER all around the house. (And the creature's reaction when coming in contact with this blessed liquid is EXACTLY like monsters/vampires being splashed by spiritual "acid.")
This view of the movie also explains the creature's actions: They act like superior tricksters, are not able to break in through closed doors, can be trapped behind simple wooden latches –all mythological elements of demons and vampire-like creatures of lore. It also explains the news over the radio at the end of the movie that an ancient method of killing the creatures has been found "in three small cities in the Middle East" - one would suspect the religious "hubs" of the three main Abrahamic traditions, each discovering the "mystic methods" of protection-and-dispatch that I’ve noted earlier.
Note also: All the Christian iconography throughout the movie, the references to "Signs and Wonders" (the true meaning of the title), the crucifix shapes hinted-at everywhere (check out the overhead shot, looking down on the street driving into town) and the ultimate fact that the entire movie is built around a Priest rediscovering he is not abandoned to a random, Godless, scientifically-oriented Universe but, rather, is part of a predicted and dreamed-of plan.
Now –these creatures may for all intents and purposes be some sort of extraterrestrial or inter-dimensional "aliens" –but the point of the movie seems to be that they are, in the ACTUALITY OF THE FILM WORLD, the dark stuff from which all the character’s tales of devils and night-creatures were born.
Everyone has fun hating on M. Night, but I think this film shows his masterful ability to create and sustain tone and intensity.
This is a movie I can't really decide to like or dislike. It's got a nice element of suspense and mystery, one or two good actors and some good scenes... but somehow I still have a problem with it.
For one thing I find it ridiculous that they read stuff about aliens in a "scientific" book, I mean that's just rubbish, like anyone on earth knows stuff like that, come one...
The ending is also a bit strange, the part with the baseball bat is a bit pointless...
And in general, I always have difficulties believing that aliens who have the technology to come from God knows where on a spaceship or whatever, would be hindered by the walls of a house or by a door... but I get it that this was necessary to allow for those scary scenes inside the house to happen.
All in all it's okay - nothing too special, but neither the worst I've ever seen.
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In 5 official lists
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This movie ranks #63 in BFI's 100 Science Fiction Films
This movie ranks #206 in Box Office Mojo's All Time Adjusted Box Office
This movie ranks #314 in TSZDT's The 1,000 Greatest Horror Films
This movie ranks #338 in Box Office Mojo's All Time Worldwide Box Office
This movie ranks #964 in TSPDT's 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films