“A genuine slow-burn of a film – its tension builds through the key denial of base, ephemeral thrills, and replacing it with an equally viable substitute.”
by Ken B.
Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others is a genuine slow-burn of a film – its tension builds through the key denial of base, ephemeral thrills, and replacing it with an equally viable substitute. In essence, it is a monster movie, but it uses what could have been a fill-in-the-blanks template of a production, and transforms into a work where visual and aural elements are characters of their own, bolstered by fine acting and a well-established mood. And riding off excellent, depthful work from Nicole Kidman in the lead, The Others also boasts crisp cinematography from Javier Aguirresarobe, expertly framing everything from extreme to extreme – perpetually foggy but bright daytime exteriors to candlelit interiors. Amenábar and his crew’s collective ability to create an eerily effective mood is one of their best assets.
The story is set in 1945, in the months following the end of World War II. In Jersey, one of the Channel Islands, there is a large mansion, many years old, and it has housed several families over the years. The current head of the household is Grace (Kidman), a woman whose husband left to fight in the forces and is missing, presumed dead. She has two young children: Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley). The siblings share a rare condition marked by extreme photosensitivity – any prolonged exposure to strong light results in severe effects. Thick curtains hang from every window of the home, and it forces the family into a state of semi-reclusion.
One day, after the estate’s incumbent servants disappear without notice, replacements arrive, seemingly spontaneously. There are three: a maid named Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), an old groundskeeper named Edmund Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and a mute cook named Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). The trio is peculiar, yes, but not threatening. However, strange events beginning occurring around the house. Inexplicable noises echo throughout the halls, and Anna keeps mentioning the sight of a boy mysteriously wandering in and out, stirring up small talk. Soon, even the devout and pragmatic Grace begins to concede that odd forces are at play, and who knows what they’re trying to do?
Amenábar’s screenplay is good enough (read: unremarkable). Its best moments come in a series of third act plot twists which, while decently surprising, seem rather ordinary in their execution and aren’t as fresh as they could have been. But overall, the movie is creepy, engrossing, and a strong, well-connected and thickly plotted ride, an archetypical example of what one could describe as a tonally sophisticated, period drama spin on the haunted house story, and while the impact isn’t particularly great, and the 104 minute runtime turns cumbersome, what is achieved is rather fascinating. The Others hasn’t had the ability to fully gain a particular remembrance or a strong following over the last fourteen years, and I think that’s a shame, because there is a lot going on here, with stellar work in front of the camera salvaging what could have been lost in the occasionally subpar material going on behind it.