Monday, March 02, 2015

THE OTHERS (2001)


The time is 1945 on one of the Jersey islands off the coast of England. Even though the war has just ended and the German occupation of the island is over, Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) is in a very bad situation. Only a week before all of the household servants deserted overnight leaving Grace and her two children, Anna (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), alone in their sprawling mansion. The children have a rare disease that causes extreme sensitivity to bright light and makes it impossible for them to venture outside their home. Complicating matters is the sad fact that her soldier husband is overdue in returning from Europe and the children are now asking when daddy will come home now that the war is finally over. Her one bit of good fortune is that, supposedly in response to Grace's newspaper ad, three new servants have arrived and immediately start helping her handle the house. She explains her son and daughter's medical problem and over the next few days begins to unburden herself to the cook, Ms. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan). At the same time, Anna starts talking about the strange people she has been seeing around the house, describing them in great detail. She thinks they might be ghosts, but they don't have the required white sheets and clanking chains. Grace believes Anna is simply trying to scare her younger brother with spooky stories, but soon she too is hearing and seeing things in the house that she can't understand. As she begins to fear for her children's lives, it becomes apparent that something supernatural is happening — and the danger is real. 


The Others was the English language debut of Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar and it is fantastic. As this was only his third full-length feature it's amazing to find such a sure and steady hand behind the camera. As writer, director and music composer of the film, Amenábar can take the lion's share of credit for what is surely one of the best cinematic ghost stories since The Haunting (1963). Quiet and atmospheric, spooky and hypnotic, beautiful and unnerving, The Others effortlessly does what so many films try to do — draw you in, then actually scare you. Building upon the standard ghost tale setting of an old dark house with dozens of rooms, here it's necessary to keep all of the doors closed and locked to contain the sunlight that could kill the children. This means the huge house is kept in perpetual darkness giving shadows dominion over every corner and hallway. When Anna starts talking about the young boy she has seen in her room it's easy to think that he might be hiding there, just out of reach of the lamplight. The suspense of the story is very well paced, giving just enough information to hook the viewer while keeping things carefully vague and foreboding. The movie slowly builds tension as Grace begins to doubt her sanity, eventually rushing around the house with a shotgun trying desperately to find the intruders she can hear but not see.


Special mention should be made of the brilliant performances from the entire cast. Ms. Kidman is in nearly every scene of the film and is perfect as this strong but fragile woman doing her best to keep herself and her family safe. She has so many standout scenes that I hesitate to pick one, but when she's trying to answer Anna's sharp questions about where people in wars go when they die, Kidman shows a level of acting not many can reach. I still believe this (not Moulin Rouge!) is the film for which she should have been Oscar-nominated. Fionnula Flanagan is just as good as Ms. Mills. With a few sympathetic glances she communicates volumes about what she knows about the house, but won't tell. Alakina Mann as Anna is also superb, in a very difficult role and its a shame she has only done one other film since this one.


Alejandro Amenábar is a very talented filmmaker. His first two films, Open Your Eyes (remade as the Tom Cruise vehicle Vanilla Sky) and Thesis showed great ability and an affinity for horror thrillers. The Others shows that his success in Spain can carry over to the rest of the world easily. Sadly, since making this hit, he has only directed two more movies and I have seen only one of those- AGORA (2009) - which was brilliant. I would hope for more from this man and soon. 

2 comments:

Nick Rentz said...

The Others reminded me very much of The Innocents or Turn of the Screw. What do you think?

Rod Barnett said...

The Innocents was an obvious influence on The Others. Indeed, there are some scenes that are like color recreations of that earlier film's eerie darkness.