Should I Watch..? 'The Others' (2001)
What's the big deal?
The Others is a psychological horror film released in 2001 and is the English-language debut for Chilean-Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar. Loosely based on the Henry James novella The Turn Of The Screw, the film sees a widow and her two children subjected to a campaign of terror by possibly supernatural forces. The film stars Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Ecclestone, Alakina Mann, James Bentley and Eric Sykes in one of his last film appearances. The film was a massive commercial success with global takings in excess of £209 million and received eight Goya awards (the Spanish equivalent of the Oscars), becoming the first English-language film to win Best Picture. The film also received critical acclaim from critics with many citing Kidman's performance as one of the best of her career.
What's it about?
Grace Stewart lives with her two children in a remote country house in the Channel Islands in the aftermath of the Second World War. Requiring assistance with her children Anne & Nicholas who suffer from a rare condition that makes them vulnerable to sunlight, Grace hires three new servants - Bertha Mills, elderly gardener Edmund Tuttle and a mute girl called Lydia. Having worked at the house previously, Bertha becomes close to the children and makes sure the windows are all obscured by curtains to block out the sun.
It doesn't take long for strange things to start happening around the house. Bertha claims to have seen a group of people several times in the house while Grace herself begins to hear strange voices. After ordering the house to be searching, Grace begins to suspect that the house is haunted and somehow, her new employees might know more than they are letting on. But is the answer as simple as that or is something truly chilling going on?
Release Date (UK)
2nd November, 2001
What's to like?
The Others might simply appear to be a period version of the classic 'haunted house' picture but it is much more than that. The film conjures a gloomy and faded world, stripped of colour and light that feels reminiscent of early Hammer horror films that embraced all things Gothic. The period setting also helps with oil lanterns illuminating just enough and creepy furniture covered in lots of white sheets, not to mention the ultimate ploy in any horror film worth its salt - creepy kids.
Kidman deserves all the plaudits as the heart of the film, slowly getting drawn deeper into the mystery despite never quite fully believing what her eyes are seeing. Her most effective scenes are those alongside Ecclestone (who sadly doesn't appear that much), her supposedly dead husband who mysteriously appears through the fog at her front door. Kidman is also helped enormously by Bentley and Mann, disproving my initial dislike of child actors by actually contributing instead of merely getting into peril. The film works hard to disguise the answers to the mystery although I dare say that more observant viewers than I will spot all the clues they need.
- The condition the children suffer from is probably Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a genuine medical condition resulting in an extreme reaction to sunlight. About 1000 in the world suffer from it so it's extremely rare.
- Kidman was reluctant to play such a dark part, having recently finished the more exuberant Moulin Rouge! She even quit during rehearsals after the role gave her nightmares, claiming that she couldn't "go there emotionally".
- The film was executive produced by Kidman's then-husband Tom Cruise, the last time they worked together prior to their divorce. Ironically, the divorce was finalised the week the film was released.
- Amenábar appears in a cameo as one of the dead men in a photograph. He specifically cast Kidman as he'd been a fan of hers since her appearance in To Die For in 1995.
What's not to like?
In fact, I would argue that the ending is a little too well disguised. Much like the twists in Fight Club and The Sixth Sense, it seems to come out of nowhere and it necessitates a second viewing to make sure that they weren't just copping out because it does feel like that. Plot twists can be troublesome things and difficult to get right - I wanted to get on board but it felt a bit too clever for its own good.
I also wanted it to be a bit bolder and more original than it is. As audiences, we've figured out that violin strings means a quick and easy way of ratcheting tension - in fact, we've known that since 1960's Psycho. Amenábar does a decent job of creating an atmosphere of... well, fear but the film is far too restrained to be an outright horror film. Having said that, I actually don't mind this - I'd rather have a film that creeps into your subconscious and play tricks on your mind than a blood-soaked, scream-fest that tries to make you jump out of your seat (and usually fail). But if you're expecting The Others to be a proper scare, you will end up disappointed and confused.
Should I watch it?
It makes a decent change to find a horror film that is more of a chiller than blood-spiller. The Others is a refreshing, albeit somewhat clichéd, brooder that takes its time and slowly gets under your skin. It won't send you running for the exits screaming in terror and actual horror fans will probably wonder what the fuss is all about. But give it a chance - sometimes, you need to slow things down and really ponder what's happening on screen instead of simply waiting for the next scare.
Great For: people who don't do horror, anyone who hasn't read The Turn Of The Screw
Not So Great For: actual horror fans, scaredy-cats, impatient viewers
What else should I watch?
Haunted house films have been a horror staple for decades, usually the focal point for a variety of evils like a zombie plague or demonic serial killer. Even today, film series like Insidious and Paranormal Activity have reinvigorated the concept which has been consistently appearing in films like The Evil Dead and one of my favourite horror films of all time, Poltergeist. Arguably the greatest horror film in history, The Shining is possibly the ultimate haunted house picture although Jack Nicholson's axe-wielding, meme-generating Jack Torrance might have something to say about that.
Alejandro Amenábar has enjoyed a brief but productive career. His earlier efforts include Open Your Eyes which would be remade by Hollywood as the slightly misfiring Vanilla Sky. His next film after The Others would be the Oscar-winning drama The Sea Inside, a real-life tale starring Javier Bardem as a quadriplegic diver fighting a 28-year campaign for euthanasia and his right to die. Not only did it scoop the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars but also fourteen out of the fifteen Goya Awards it was nominated for.
© 2018 Benjamin Cox