Movies about aliens have always fascinated the public. Extraterrestrial life is one of those fascinating, just-out-of-our-grasp topics that provides endless potential for entertainment and debate. Our teeny, tiny Earth-bound brains can barely begin to comprehend the size of the Universe, let alone what it might look, sound or feel like, or what any type of being that survives out there could possibly be like.
And that's exactly why aliens are so terrifying. They're scary enough that Hollywood has been eking out story lines for decades. How else do you explain the decades-long success of the four-part Alien franchise? Or Men In Black. Or Independence Day (both of them). Aliens don't even have to be shown to captivate audience—the sheer mystery whether the truth is out there can provide drama to last 10 whole seasons (of hour-long episodes!).
It is this exact mystery that leads us to sleep a little less easy every time we think about it. After all, murder investigations aside, the true terror of The X-Files was coming to the slow realization that Mulder might actually have been right about who abducted his sister and what they were capable of. And there's truly no need to feel ashamed or childish for checking your closet a little closer after watching a movie about extraterrestrial invasions. Even Stephen Hawking himself has warned society of the dangers of aggressive aliens, and that's basically scientific proof that we should be having nightmares.
Which brings us to Arrival.
The movie, out today, doesn't really belong in the same category as the aforementioned Alien and its brethren. It's suspenseful, yes, but there are no alien attacks or gory scenes or really even a feeling of threat at all, besides the one which humans pose to each other as they fail to work together as 12 different spaceships touch down across the globe. It's actually quite cerebral and fascinating—as the ships hover above Montana, Siberia, Venezuela and other random locales, Amy Adams, playing a Berkeley professor and renowned linguistics expert, is brought in by the government to attempt to communicate with the beings inside.
She dons the now-familiar (thanks to The Martian, among other movies) orange spacesuit alongside Jeremy Renner, they're lifted up inside the giant monolith and, well, we're obviously not going to tell you how it turns out. What we will tell you is that even though this movie is about so much more than an alien attack (or non-attack), it will quite literally haunt your dreams. Aliens are creepy and foreign and slimy and this human brain, for one, was rocked with what could only be described as the willies. For those who venture to the theaters, picture yourself falling asleep and experiencing one of these mind benders.
Nightmare #1. You're sitting in a strange lecture hall. For some reason, there are only a dozen or so people in a room for at least 100. Your immediate thought: "I'm naked! This is one of those dreams where I'm naked and have to talk in front of the class!" You look down and find that you are, in fact, clothed. You even totally enjoy your dream-top. Sigh of relief. Then the professor enters and starts class, but the other students are immensely distracted. They keep whispering and looking at their phones under their desks, and you get the impression that everyone knows something you don't.
You begin to feel a sense of imminent doom and panic. Something is not right...will all the students turn around and suddenly have pig's heads? No, this isn't some crap episode of The Twilight Zone. Before you can reassure yourself again that they very much have human faces, an alarm siren goes off. Not a chasing-a-robber siren, but a siren out of one of those war movies. Everyone scrambles at the same time, dashing out of the building and running wherever it is that you run, but your feet have suddenly turned to cement blocks and, welp, that's that.
In Arrival, this scenario is what we like to call an opening scene. Okay, so that's a bit dramatic—no one is worried about pig heads and there's no scrambling and it certainly didn't seem like anybody's feet turned into cement blocks. It was more of a slow and methodical filing out to stand in front of televisions and watch CNN broadcast images of spaceships that look like footballs hovering over all sorts of remote locales. But it still manages to get at that little part of your brain that's always been terrified of worldwide disasters. And those ships look pretty creepy.
Nightmare #2: You're claustrophobic. So claustrophobic. Like, you can't breathe at all and can't really see either. You're probably in a coffin and are finally having that buried alive feeling. Or are you just having a nightmare about being claustrophobic? These are dreams, people, they're not always that clear. But it feels like there's a pile of bricks on your chest and you're definitely waving your arms a lot in your sleep
But then you wake up and realize you were just dreaming about what it's like to be in one of those spacesuits-meets-scuba-suit-meets-medieval-torture-chamber that Amy Adams and costar Jeremy Renner were forced to wear for so much of the movie. Sure, they're about to be one of the first humans to descend up inside a mysterious spaceship to potentially come in contact with mysterious alien beings who definitely have germs, at the very least. But do they have to be locked up in them so tightly? Poor Amy Adams is but a civilian professor, she's clearly very uncomfortable with wearing this device.
Nightmare #3: You're being attacked by a giant spider. It looks kind of like Aragog from Harry Potter, but wasn't Aragog kind of friendly? Who can keep track. Anyways, back to the dream you're having about the six-foot-long tentacles flailing about in the night.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, those are the aliens. We don't want to be judgmental here; they're not murderous aliens. But that doesn't mean we enjoyed stomaching the visual of a gargantuan floating Heptapods who also happen to have octopus tentacles for hands.
Nightmare #4: It's World War 3. That's it. It's one of those dreams where you wake up and you can't remember specific details like who else was there or what anyone said, but you have a freaked-out feeling tingling in your fingers and you definitely know everyone was at war.
No spoilers here, but let's just say that Arrival ever-so-graciously set up that possibility—tensions get high when no one knows why these aliens have decided to invade Earth and no one can agree on how to handle them. It's oddly prescient, but also totally implausible because come on guys there's no way
Nightmare #5: You're having a dream that you're having a dream, which is already one of the most terrifying dreams that a person could dream. But in this dream within a dream, you're also being attacked by an alien. Okay, so maybe not attacked, but he's definitely crept up on you and is hovering with his tentacles. It's kind of like in horror movies when you see the reflection of the killer in the mirror, right over the victim's shoulder, before they do. But this is your own dream so you see the killer and are also the victim. And then you wake up from the first dream, realize you were dreaming about a dream, and will proceed to never sleep again.
Okay, this one totally happened word for word in the movie, and we can't even blame our overactive imagination for the resulting sleep disturbances.