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The Others (2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
review by Patrick Hudson
I wonder which came first: the classic ghost story or Freudian psychoanalysis? Almost every ghost story I've ever read or seen depends on denial, an inability of the dead to accept their fate, which almost always erupts into violence. Although our bodies may fall and decay, our spirits seem to desperately refuse to accept what has happened to them.
Just such a movie is The Others, the story of Grace (Nicole Kidman), a mother living with her two young children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), in an isolated old house in Jersey just after the war. They are an odd family - the children are allergic to light and Grace insists that all the doors are kept locked "to keep light out" - and the father of the house is apparently missing in action in the war. Furthermore, the house appears to be haunted, with mysterious 'intruders' that only Anne can see. When three mysterious servants arrive, the supernatural events begin to escalate and the small family begin to realise that something is very wrong.
The Others is that old gothic standby, the haunted house movie. Amenabar uses old-fashioned cinematic subtlety to creep the audience out, eschewing the more ostentatious effects of films such as remakes of The Haunting and The House On Haunted Hill. Even the 1940s setting - it really could have been set in any era - harkens back to an era of classic chillers, and The Others is a minor masterpiece of timing and atmosphere with the kind of creepy horror that was necessary before the days of special effects and over-the-top gore.
Amenabar has elicited fine performances from his actors, with Kidman cast to perfection as the glacial, neurotic Grace - the name surely a reference to Hitchcock and Grace Kelly. The child actors bring great conviction to their roles, and Fionnula Flanagan plays the housekeeper Mrs Mills with just the right mixture of down-to-earth common sense and ominous command to keep the audience guessing what her role in the strange events really is. Even Eric Sykes surprises with an understated turn as the gardener.
Like other supernatural films of late, The Others comes with a twist in the tail, and if the film has a problem it is that this twist too damn obvious. By the time Grace's husband Charles (Christopher Eccleston) returns to his family, matters must surely be clear to even the densest moviegoer. The film carries on, however, to a genuinely chilling climax, and the final revelations of the reasons for the haunting of Grace and her family are grimly satisfying. But the obvious twist combined with the film's stately pace make it less than a thrill ride than it could have been, and if your tastes extend to the more action packed, this film may be too mellow for you.
The Others is a fine, understated horror film with good performances and a genuine air of menace rarely achieved by its more flashy brethren. Don't go expecting non-stop action, and the gradually building atmosphere of unease will haunt you for days.
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