The Others (2001) / Horror-Mystery
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic elements and frightening moments
Running time: 104 min
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Alakina Mann, James Bentley, Fionnula Flannagan, Christopher Eccleston
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Screenplay: Alejandro Amenabar
Review published August 16, 2001
With all due respect to the fans of The Sixth Sense, with which others may draw comparisons due to its ending, I'm going to go against the grain and proclaim The Others as the best horror film I have seen since -- well, I can't remember since when -- unless you consider Silence of the Lambs within the horror genre. Unlike The Sixth Sense, the screw-turn ending is well within the themes resented throughout the film, and not merely a gimmick established to fool the audience. However, the comparisons between the two should end there, as this is an old-fashioned horror story in the mold of the best of Henry James' spine-tingling "Turn of the Screw" or with films like the original The Haunting, which chilled and thrilled through sheer atmosphere and imagery, and not through gruesome slash and gash.
Nicole Kidman (Eyes Wide Shut, Practical Magic) plays Grace, likely inspired by the archetype Grace Kelly image of cool and classy, who lives in a secluded manor on a small English island during the mid-40s. Grace has been waiting for the return of her husband (Eccleston, Gone in Sixty Seconds), who has gone off to fight in World War II, and although he has been presumed dead, she still maintains belief in his imminent arrival. The expansive estate requires some outside help to maintain, and along with the cleaning and gardening, the household help have to be cautious of keeping the house in the dark, because Grace's two young children suffer from a rare disease that requires them to avoid strong light, especially sunlight, or they may be in danger of dying from the exposure. Grace maintains a strict lifestyle for the children, teaching them both herself in the 3 Rs but also the Golden Rule as well. However, she also has suffered from an apparent nervous breakdown in the past, and when things start to go bump in the night in the rickety house, Grace wonders whether she has lost it for sure.
While we have certainly been down this road before in terms of classic horror of the past, The Others should not be easily dismissed as a "been-there-seen-that" thriller as some may expect. While its roots have been firmly established within the genre it stems from, The Others should not be seen as derivative, but rather as a prime example of achieving horror through atmosphere and suspense. This type of film is far from easy to make, as we need to genuinely care about the characters, while also suspending a generous amount of disbelief for things which may be supernatural. This requires spot-on performances and a director who is competent enough in his craft to blend sight, sound and story to give us just enough to keep the plot moving forward without revealing too much too soon and risk us to have "figured it all out", idling time while having to sit in boredom to a predictable ending.
So did they deliver? And how! Nicole Kidman gives one of her all-time best performances, worthy of accolades she will never receive, showing both toughness and vulnerability, sometimes concurrently. As phenomenal as her performance is, she is equally matched by the directorial and writing styles of Chilean-born Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes, The Sea Inside), who directs his first English-language film with the hands of a master. The setting is rich, the storyline compelling, the music perfection, and it's all punctuated by a disturbingly brilliant ending that, even if one were to have guessed the result, is so brilliantly delivered that we can but marvel as it unfolds.
What is also enjoyable is the thematic punch of the film, which makes The Others a cut above your average horror flick. Themes of the role of mother as protector, how we are haunted by things past, the home as the safe-haven, and the value of belief, religious or otherwise, all add up to make this a horror film for the thinking person.
When all is said and done, I'm still haunted by the imagery and story, perhaps more now than when I was actually viewing it. This eerie feeling is fitting enough. Like a ghost in the night, the essence of The Others lives on long after it's life has expired.
©2001 Vince Leo