"The Others," directed by Alejandro Amenabar (1999's "Open Your Eyes"), is a
gorgeously woven motion picture that manages to be as emotionally rewarding
as it is genuinely scary. An eloquent and deeply affecting ghost story, the
film bears a superficial resemblance to 1999's "The Sixth Sense," yet
distances itself from that equally fine movie by imposing upon the viewer its
own personal layers of shivering atmosphere and signs of impending dread that
could only be classified as its own.
Set almost entirely within a mansion on Britain's Channel Islands, circa
1945, Grace (Nicole Kidman) is a stringently religious woman living with her
two precocious children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley).
With a husband (Christopher Eccleston) presumably lost amidst the horrors of
World War II, she is greeted one day at the door by three people who have
come to act as her servants--kindly, no-nonsense Mrs. Mills (Fionnula
Flanagan); reserved Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and young, mute Lydia (Elaine
Cassidy). Grace promptly explains to them that Anne and Nicholas have a rare
photosensitive disorder that bars them from ever being exposed to sunlight,
and so whenever they enter a room, the curtains must be closed on all the
windows and each door must be locked before opening another. As they begin to
settle down into a pattern of normalcy, Anne refuses to keep quiet about her
sightings of others hiding in the house, which she labels "intruders." A
devout Catholic, Grace refuses to believe her daughter's seemingly made-up
stories until she, too, starts having frightening experiences that gradually
lead her to believe in the existence of otherworldly entities.
In his first English-language feature, the remarkably fascinating
achievements which "The Others" holds is due solely to Alejandro Amenabar,
who not only has directed the film, but also written the multidimensional
screenplay and composed the subtly chilling music score. As a classic horror
picture, "The Others" is the best kind, weaving its spell in a deliberately
slow fashion that penetratingly involves you in its central characters and
their unfortunate plight. The film is without overt violence or bloodshed,
but one-ups these elements by creating a masterful ambiance of both mood and
unshakable trepidation that is far more haunting than the sight of a masked
killer hacking away at a pretty teenaged cast.
If "The Others" is an example of sheer cathartic artistry, then it excels
even more as it maturely grapples with themes of faith and religion. Most
intriguing of all is the beliefs which Grace possesses--beliefs that she
starts to question as the circumstances within her home grow progressively
more dire. Teaching her children about the bible, Grace assuredly discusses
its topics with the directness of a person who is positive what she believes
is true. Grace is very serious about her Catholicism, which only distresses
her more when things begin occurring to her that contradict everything she
has ever learned and studied. Serious religious issues that are tackled
head-on never, or rarely, arise in the horror genre, and the fact that this
one does only allows for a more wholly satisfying experience. The movie is
scary fun, to be sure, but also offers up various thought-provoking
evocations that raise it up a few notches further.
Nicole Kidman, an actress who has been around for over a decade but never
fully allowed to test out her acting range, has come out of her shell in the
last few months with two very different films that also, incidentally, are
the two best performances she has given. In "Moulin Rouge," she played her
part--that of a high-spirited, dreamy courtesan unknowingly dying of
tuberculosis--to perfection, and also got to uncover a glorious singing
voices. With "The Others," Kidman is more emotionally unhinged, more serious,
more insecure about the entire world around her. She is easily the star
attraction, as she inhabits almost every scene, and Kidman rises to the
challenge, passionately portraying Grace as a woman who is every bit as
internally weak as she is externally strong.
Newcomers Alakina Mann and James Bentley, as Grace's children, are
extraordinary. It is rare to get so much unblinking reality and nuances out
of child performers, especially those making their acting debuts, but Bentley
and, especially, Mann, are the real deal. Their roles are not easy, either.
As Anne, Mann must project a childlike playfulness with an air of stern
maturity beyond her years, and she achieves this without taking one misstep.
With lush cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe, who excels in giving the
surroundings a dank, eerie feel that perfectly compliments the
fog-enshrouded, desolate outdoors, "The Others" is a marvelous entertainment
with a depth that gives viewers a little something extra to chew on long
after the lights have gone up. And while one of the climactic twists isn't
terribly surprising, the final corkscrew in the plot is nearly impossible to
predict, and also ingenious. Kudos must go out to Amenabar, whose expertise
and intelligence help to make "The Others" more than 'just another
supernatural thriller.' It is a disquieting, classy, superbly realized horror
tale that should not, and will not, be forgotten.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman