It's hard not to recommend "The Others." The supernatural thriller,
written and directed by Alejandro Amenábar ("Open Your Eyes"), adroitly
establishes and maintains a low-key atmosphere of menace. The
cinematography, by Javier Aguirresarobe, is as good as I have ever seen
and Nicole Kidman gives another in her growing body of fine
performances. But the pacing of the story moves from deliberate to
downright sluggish and the payoff of the tale left me less than
Overall, the film plays like a very high quality version of any number
of old "Twilight Zone" episodes where the characters spend a great deal
of time wandering about looking afraid and disoriented, only to learn
they are actually a child's toy, a military test subject or a department
store dummy. Watching those vintage shows and listening to the players
chatter, I always wanted to shout, "Get on with it!" As much as I
appreciated the atmosphere and acting in "The Others," my reaction was
much the same.
Set at an island mansion off the coast of England during World War II,
the story focuses on Grace (Kidman), who tends to her children Anne
(Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) and worries about her
husband, Charles (Christopher Eccleston), a missing serviceman. Anne and
Nicholas suffer from photosensitivity and Grace patrols the estate with
the keys to all 50 doors, protecting the little ones from excess light
by making sure that only one door is open at a time.
At the beginning of the film, three servants, Mrs. Mills (Fionnula
Flanagan), young, mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), and Mr. Tuttle (Eric
Sykes), an aging gardener, join the family. The two that speak seem
agreeable enough at first, but it soon becomes apparent that they know
something that Grace does not. To make matters worse, the children are
upset: Nicholas is unusually jittery and Anne claims to be seeing
ghosts. Grace attempts to blame the troubles on the new arrivals to her
home, only to realize that whatever is happening is beyond them.
That's essentially the whole story, with the tension growing until the
pivotal moment when everything becomes clear. Earlier, there is an
outstanding scene where Grace darts outside, only to be enveloped in
fold after fold of shimmering fog. The visuals in the otherworldly
sequence, courtesy of Aguirresarobe, are simply astounding.
I also enjoyed the presence of religion, a rarity in films dealing with
the supernatural. Grace is a Christian and answers her children's
questions about life and death with the assurance of a devout worshiper.
When mother is away, though, the kids speculate whether her statements
are fact or folklore, just as real children do.
But those nice touches fail to enliven a film that is too slow or make
up for a lackluster ending. "The Others" sets out to be a classic ghost
story, but fails to grasp that special something that makes such films
more than layers of mist.
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott