Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on rockin’ flatscreen.
It’s been a few years since I’ve seen The Others. I remembered this as a film that I genuinely liked, but that I wasn’t sure would work on a rewatch. Films that work with a twist ending often have the problem of not wearing well on a repeat viewing. So I had some concerns. It’s exactly what happened to me with A Beautiful Mind, a film I enjoyed on the first viewing and found lackluster on the second. I didn’t really want that to happen with The Others, but I am ever a slave to the list. Fortunately, this is a film that is made well enough that even knowing the ending doesn’t for a second spoil how well the whole thing holds together.
What The Others gets right is the atmosphere. This is a film that foregoes gore and blood. Instead, it’s all about creating a world of suspense. This is about the creeps. The point here is to establish a sense of dread, to give us not something that horrifies, but rather puts us in touch with a space between the real world and the spirit world. In that respect, it is reminiscent of films like The Haunting that depend entirely on atmosphere, shadow, and sound for the creation of scares and tension.
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives in a huge manor on the island of Jersey in the years following World War II. Her husband Charles (Christopher Eccelston) went off to fight in the war and is presumed dead. Grace fights a constant battle against light in the house. Her children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) suffer from a strange condition that makes them hyper-sensitive to light. Heavy curtains must be constantly drawn, and the standard rule in the house is that before one door is opened, the previously opened door must be closed. All of this is done to control the amount of light the children come in contact with.
Shortly after the film begins, Grace and her children are visited by three people. These are Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). They tell Grace that they have seen her advertisement for servants and have come to work at the manor. Grace instructs them of the various rules of the house, particularly about the constant battle against light and the delicate health of her two children.
Soon, strange events begin taking place around the house. There are unexplained noises, doors mysteriously left ajar, and curtains left open. Anne claims to have seen other people in the house, particularly a young boy and an old woman (Renee Asherson) that the boy claims is a witch. Grace’s investigation of the house reveals a collection of tintypes that are photographs of the dead. These include group photographs and pictures of children and infants. Grace refuses to believe that these “intruders” really exist and also punishes Anne for lying, since Grace will not believe that the house is haunted.
Of course, the house is haunted. Husband Charles shows up and is distant with Grace, and after a day tells her that he must return to the war, and he vanishes in the fog surrounding the house. The three servants begin acting strangely as well, particularly Mrs. Mills, who seems to know something that she is keeping from Grace. Eventually, even Grace can no longer deny that the house is acting as a junction between the real world and the spirit world, which leads us to the surprising and effective conclusion.
I said at the top that The Others works primarily because of the atmosphere, and I stand by that. Even on a rewatch with the secrets of the film known, this is a film that absolutely drips in tension and the creeps. I didn’t expect that it would, but it’s still effective in creating dread in the audience.
The Others, like most films with a supernatural bent, was sadly overlooked come award season. I can think of no good reason that Nicole Kidman was ignored for this come Oscar time. This is one of her best and most effective performances. She is constantly on a knife edge of terror and is initially concerned with keeping things together for her children. By the end, she has succumbed completely to what is happening, and it is her building tension and fear that drives the entire film. I’d also suggest that Alejandro Amenabar deserved some Oscar love, as did Fionnula Flanagan for her turn as Bertha Mills. Again, much of the reason the film works as well as it does is because of her performance. She’s equal parts comforting and terrifying, and it works perfectly.
I knew that The Others would get a favorable review from me because it’s such a damn good film on a first watch. I’m happy to report that it’s just as good on a second viewing as well. Anyone interested in the true potential of a horror film, of a movie that is capable not just of acting as a thrill ride or grossing out the audience could do a lot worse than spend a couple of hours in a creepy house with Grace and her kids.
Why to watch The Others: An incredibly effective horror thriller.
Why not to watch: If you want gore, you’ve come to the wrong place.