I waited a long time to see "The Others" but only because it was playing at all of the worst, most inconvenient theaters in LA. I was waiting for the opportunity to see it on a somewhat respectable screen, to enhance my viewing experience. I fully believe that the screen and theater play a big part in the overall enjoyment of a film. If you see an OK film at a shoebox theater, you will likely report that the film was no good. If you see a bad film at a good theater, you will probably enjoy the film a little more. Over the Labor Day Weekend, I found myself on vacation, with a few hours on my hand, and 'The Others' playing at a theater nearby. Unfortunately, the theater was one of the absolute worst that I have ever been in, so it may have colored my judgement a little. Note to theater goers: It is absolutely the most inconsiderate thing in the world to bring a cell phone to a movie theater and take calls during the film. It is inconceivably inconsiderate to take calls on a cell phone that lights up, casting shadows and a laser light show throughout the small, darkened theater. If this happened once, I could understand the mistake, but three or four times? Turn your damn cell phones and pagers off. People can call you back after the movie!
Now, about the movie…
Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) live in an old mansion on Jersey, an island off the English coast, during World War II. Grace, a puritanical woman, devoutly quoting the bible, teaches her children at home and in fact won't let them go into a room in which the sun is shining. Each child has a rare condition which can kill them if they are exposed to sunlight. Grace closes the curtains of each room as they move through, to protect them. Naturally, both Grace and the children become a little sick of being confined to the house. The perpetual fog outside does little to alleviate anyone's spirits. Grace and the children are also concerned about the whereabouts of the man of the family, Charles (Christopher Eccleston). He went off to fight in the war, but has not been heard from since, and the war has been over for at least a year. One day, three people show up on the doorstep to answer Grace's ad for domestic help. The previous three servants simply disappeared a week before. They are: Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flannagan), Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) and Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes). About the same time, Grace and the children begin hearing noises.
"The Others", written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar, is a haunted house film like they used to make, more similar to the original "The Haunting" or any other good horror film. The filmmaker relies on acting and storytelling to create an atmosphere of fright and horror, eschewing all CGI and gross-out tricks. How refreshing!
Nicole Kidman has now created two films in a row that any actor would like to be remembered for. In my eyes, this is a huge achievement. Previously, I couldn't stand her. Every role made her seem like an ice princess. Only "To Die For" showed any acting ability and even this role did nothing for her personality. Now with "Moulin Rouge" and "The Others", Kidman is showing both range and warmth, shattering previous conceptions of her. Both films show an actress with amazing ability.
Fionnula Flanagan, Elaine Cassidy and Eric Sykes are all very effective as the competent, but at times, mysterious help who arrive mysteriously. Their characters are most effective when they aren't revealing things to the audience. This was a mistake on Amenabar's part, as it reveals too much of their characters. It is always better to keep the audience in the dark for as long as possible.
Alakina Mann and James Bentley are especially effective as Grace's children. Never able to run and play, they seem perfect as they try to remain in their mother's good graces. As they talk of 'mother's episodes', we don't know if they are simply telling tall tales or revealing something that we should really pay attention to.
The cinematography and set design help to create an atmosphere of confusion and dread. The fog surrounding the house serves to confine them further. As Grace fanatically moves from one room to the next, closing curtains, to shield the children from light, she herself creates an atmosphere of dread that we as the audience never seem to be able to escape.
A lot has been said of the 'big twist' at the end. The less said about this, the better. Most reviews of this film compare the big twist to another very memorable big twist in another very memorable film. If you know what this previous twists is, you can pretty much figure out the twist in "The Others", which is too bad.
A lot has also been said about the film being too slow. I didn't find it slow at all. The suspense and tension build as we learn more about the story and the characters. I don't think it is necessary or relevant for every film to have quick or MTV-like editing. It wouldn't be appropriate to this story and I am thankful that they didn't use it here.
"The Others" is a chilling, frightening old-fashioned haunted house film. Great entertainment worth your money.