Ray lives in New Jersey and does not see his children often. When his ex-wife decides to take a trip to Boston to see her parents, she pays him a surprise visit to leave the children with him. While trying to form a relationship with his daughter Rachel he realizes that his son Robbie takes his car out for a joy ride. When Ray goes after Robbie to find him he finds that there is a very strange wall cloud in the skyline. Then all of a sudden the cloud starts shooting powerful jolts of lighting. Rachael screams terrified of the awful noise and clasping her hands over her ears. Ray tries to keep her calm by telling her lighting never strikes the same place twice and then they witness it doing just that.
They run inside for cover as the lighting strikes several more times and when it's done Ray goes outside to investigate against the wishes of Rachel. Robbie returns stating that the cars and other electronics no longer work. Ray walks down the street to investigate and tells a local mechanic to change the solenoid in one of the cars which seems to do the trick.
Ray continues his investigations and ends up where he saw the lighting striking several times and watches as the ground opens on to reveal a large machine. Everyone stands still petrified. And then the machine begins to attack with its weapons which seem to disintegrate anyone it shoots. Ray runs back to his house to the kids barely escaping the machine.
He packs up the kids and drives his car, which had been repaired by the mechanic, to his ex-wife's house where they spend the night. Throughout the night they hear many explosions. In the morning when they get ready to leave they meet a newscast reporter who is steeling meals out of a crashed passenger plane. She shoes Ray video of the machines and slows the footage down so that he can see the operators had actually entered the machines through the bolts of lightning.
Throughout the rest of the movie Ray and Rachel are separated from Robbie and try to survive the attacks of this alien enemy and survive what seems to be a war of the worlds.