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The Others

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Others

Starring: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: August 2001
Genre: Horror

*Also starring: James Bentley, Fionnula Flanagan, Elaine Cassidy, Eric Sykes

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Any hack can knock out a parody of a genre movie. All you have to do is closely observe a straight version of, say, a horror story, then imitate it by peppering jokes throughout. In summer camp we used to satirize commercials all the time because commercials, like so many horror movies, are virtually parodies in themselves. But it takes talent to write the real thing: a "Nosferatu," a "Phantom of the Opera," a "Golem." Given the junk that's been splashing across the screens since at least the 1950's--the Godzillas, the Frankensteins, the Draculas, with sons, brides and ghosts of same--we don't wonder that the movies mocking them are equally bad: "Scream 2," "Scary Movie 2," you know the rest.

That's why it's such a pleasure to see a chic ghost story, not unlike the kind we heard our counselors tell around the campfire during the summers of our childhood. "The Others" is pure class, a gem of a poltergeist prevarication, featuring the reliably grade-A acting of Nicole Kidman who, as Grace, the owner of a spooky house in the English island of Jersey, resembles no one so much as Grace Kelly or Ingrid Bergman. "The Others" is so carefully drawn, avoiding the usual kitsch false alarms of teen-targeted trepidation, with such a great twist in its concluding segment, that we wouldn't be surprised to see it open in art houses as well as in major commercial theaters on August 10th.

By coincidence, the story, which opens in the year 1945, is driven by a concept that could have been torn from yesterday's news story--the one about the suicide of the wife of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl. Apparently the poor woman had a rare disease whereby she could not expose herself to sunlight. Like Dracula, she had to confine herself indoors lest she experience terrible pain. The claustrophobic existence was too much for her and she was found hanged by her own hand. In like manner, Grace has two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), afflicted with a similar ailment requiring that all windows in the large and deteriorating Jersey mansion be curtained and, to protect them from electric lights, before opening a door to another room, the door to the present room must first be shut. The distressing, if accustomed, life of the manor is about to change dramatically when three servants arrive, the elderly Mrs. mills (Fionnula Flanagan), the mute, young Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), and an aging gardener, Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes).

Though Alejandro Amenabar helms the unconventional film in Spain standing in for the English island of Jersey, the setting is a standard as they come. Fog embraces the landscape as far as the eye can see even as the story stays away from the hackneyed dark and stormy nights. We get our first clue that something evil is in the house when the servants themselves begin plotting with one another to make some interesting changes in their status. The thrills and chills take off, particularly when Anne, who comes across as streetwise despite her lack of access to, well, the streets, begins to notice the ghostly presence of a young man named Viktor whom no one else can see. There are intruders in the house! Given the care that Mr. Amenabar takes in developing the story, we come to care about the characters. We want to shout out and warn the increasingly frightened Grace that evil lurks and that perhaps she should abandon the mansion and take a pad in London's Soho district, but we again understand that she is staying in the house of horrors only to protect her youngsters from seeing the light--which she herself cannot see, as it turns out.

Though Christopher Eccleston as Grace's husband Charles is given second billing, he gets little to do. Fionnula Flanagan as the scheming Mrs. Mills becomes the center of audience fear in her remarkable portrayal of a domestic who seems increasingly determined to overthrow the demeaning role she must take as cook to the coiffed and overbearing mistress of the house. Alakina Mann stands out as well in the role of a kid who is alternately rebellious and frightened of the trespasser that only he seems to see. "Ther Others" is the spookiest story of its kind since M. Night Shayamalan's "The Sixth Sense," and is graced moreover without that film's slick Hollywood patina.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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