Americans Ben and Sean (Max Minghella and Emile Hirsch) travel to Moscow to sell their social networking/party locating software. As they approach the airport the plane short circuits due to an electrical storm but regains power. They find their Swedish business partner, Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), has betrayed them and already made a deal with the Russians, using a knockoff application. They go to a nightclub and meet Natalie (Olivia Thirlby), an American, and her Australian friend Anne (Rachel Taylor). Outside, they witness what appears to be an aurora. But some of the light begins to fall from the sky, landing everywhere. The lights then disappear, and when a police officer walks up to investigate he suddenly disintegrates along with many others who were near the lights. The lights are aliens protected by almost invisible force fields. They start hunting and disintegrating everyone, sending everyone into a panic.
Ben, Sean, Natalie, Anne, and now Skyler hide in the club's storeroom for several days. With most of their food gone, the group plans to go to the American Embassy. On the way, they find a police car which Ben and Sean search for supplies while the others hide in a nearby mall. While searching the car, they see a barking dog who is killed. Ben and Sean hide under the car as the alien moves closer, causing its lights and siren to turn on. The alien moves on and the men run to the mall. Sean realizes that lights give the aliens away. The group takes shelter in one of the stores. Sean and Natalie go to look for clothes and almost run into an alien who can't see them through a glass wall. Sean theorizes that the aliens can only see their electrical charge, but not through glass.
The group finds the American Embassy has been gutted. All except Skyler go to the roof to get an aerial view. They find a logbook telling them the invasion is worldwide. They also find a radio broadcasting a message in Russian. They hear gunfire. Natalie and Anne try to warn the men an alien is approaching Skyler. The boys then find him. Two aliens approach the three. Skyler shoots the alien in front. Two aliens disintegrate him...one half per alien. When the others go outside they see a light in a nearby apartment tower and go to investigate, bringing the radio they found. They find a young woman named Vika and a man named Sergei, an electrical engineer. Sergei made his apartment into a giant Faraday cage that hides everyone from the aliens. He also developed a microwave gun that weakens an aliens' force field so it can actually be seen and killed. Vika and Sergei translate the message, which says a nuclear submarine K-152 Nerpa is waiting in the Moscow River to take survivors to safety.
As Sergei shows the men the microwave device, Vika, Natalie, and Anne go to other apartments to gather supplies for the submarine journey. An alien senses them outside the Faraday cage and gives chase, but Anne hesitates following Vika and goes another way, causing Natalie to follow her back inside. When they get to the apartment, Natalie is unable to close the door and the alien gets inside. Sergei shoots the alien with his gun and finds that it is only stunned. The alien disintegrates Sergei while the others get out by the fire escape, but Anne hesitates again and is disintegrated while trying to escape. Natalie sets the apartment on fire as they climb down and meet up with Vika.
They meet up with a Russian police team who manage to wound an alien with conventional weapons, and Sean collects a piece of it. The police were also able to build another Faraday cage at the local library. The team eventually agree to help the remaining four to get to the submarine. The policemen believe that the aliens are strip mining for conductive metals since giant light columns can be seen drilling all over Moscow.
While moving through the subway an alien discovers them and they escape on the tracks. Vika hides behind a pillar, unable to join the others without being seen. Ben helps her climb down to the tracks, but gets disintegrated.
The survivors make it to a boat on the river, and plan to travel downstream to the waiting submarine. The boat soon gets stuck and a new light beam destroys a building right next to the river, causing them to capsize and to be thrown into the water. Sean swims towards the submarine, but discovers Natalie is missing. They see a flare fired from Natalie's flare gun; Sean is determined to get her, possibly missing his chance to escape. The police agrees to help him rescue her after the Russian submarine crew builds another microwave gun with stronger batteries.
Sean finds Natalie on a bus as the police and Vika destroy three more aliens using the microwave guns and water. As Sean is about to get off the bus with Natalie, an alien climbs on board, locks the door and sends the bus speeding around the city. It grabs onto Natalie's leg, but Sean blasts the alien's shield with the microwave gun. He then discovers the alien's weakness when he throws a piece of the wounded alien he had collected earlier, and it destroys the unshielded alien. The two stop the bus and narrowly avoid a collision.
After returning to the submarine, the police team decides to stay and fight for the city, and tell the kids that the war has begun. Sean, Natalie and Vika, the only three protagonists still active, plan to spread what they learned about the aliens - the microwave guns and their weakness to pieces of other dead aliens - to the rest of the world. Sean and Natalie nearly share a kiss on the submarine. They soon learn that survivors in Paris managed to destroy an alien mining tower, and the film ends on a hopeful note.
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