Worth A Look: 26.03%
Pretty Bad: 3.31%
Total Crap: 6.2%
12 reviews, 170 user ratings
by Matt Mulcahey
In the post-Scream horror climate, where self-reflexive storylines and tongue-in-cheek humor accompany the in-vogue gore of the 70s and 80s, we’re lucky a movie like The Others, an old-fashioned ghost story set in the type of gothic English estate that could’ve been a left-over set from an early Hammer horror entry, was even made.And, make no mistake about it, the only reason this film was made is because of the success of The Sixth Sense, itself shamelessly overrated. That’s the way Hollywood has always treated the genre, viewing horror films as a lesser type of film unworthy of top actors, top directors or a reasonable budget.
"Effective but overrated"
But every now and then a studio horror picture will hit it big, allowing for a welcome but inevitably brief, resurgence in horror where talented filmmakers tackle a genre whose biggest triumphs in the years since Universal’s classic horror cycle have been on minuscule budgets by little known auteurs (i.e. Night of the Living Dead, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, The Blair Witch Project).
As the Exorcist made it safe for Gregory Peck to battle the spawn of Satan in The Omen or Robert Wise to direct the possessed-child thriller Audrey Rose, big-budget ghost stories are all the rave, with The Others following What Lies Beneath and Stir of Echoes as attempts to cash in on the monstrous success of The Sixth Sense.
Trapped in a stately English mansion by the illness of her two children (they are photosensitive and even a few moments in the sunlight could be fatal), Grace (Nicole Kidman) spends her days teaching the children the Bible and waiting for her husband to return from the second World War.
Grace tries to keep her fear and worry hidden under an obsessively strict schedule, with everything in its place and every action dictated by stringent rules.
Grace’s tightly-wound grasp on her surroundings starts to slip when her daughter Anne (Alakina Mann), a fiesty, disobendient child who’s growing increasingly questioning of her mother’s obessively erratic behavior, claims to have seen other people in the house.
Grace initially disbelieves, but is soon turned around by standard haunted-house creepiness: locked doors left open, piano’s being played and the old standby, loud noises from the attic.
Adding to the increasingly creepy atmosphere is the arrival of three servants: a seemingly kindhearted housekeeper (Fionnula Flanagan), a mute cleaning girl (Elaine Cassidy) and an elderly gardener (Eric Sykes).
The moment the trio steps in the door writer/director/composer Alejandro Amenabar begins tipping his hand too early. Soon after their arrival, the servants begin acting a bit strange and it soon becomes very obvious that their lives and the stately mansion are intertwined. They cover up gravestones and utter things like “Should we tell her yet?”, ruining what could have been a surprising twist on the standard haunting-house tale.
With the odd behavior of the new servants adding to Grace’s already unstable paranoia, she soon finds herself searching the entire house, shotgun in hand, to find the “intruders”, but she’s always a second too late to catch a glimpse of what’s scuttling into darkened rooms or creeping down the halls just out of her sight.
These strange noises and the flighty behavior of her servant staff soon put Grace close to the edge of madness as her tightly knit, structured existence tumbles into disarray.
Despite it’s unique setting, The Others merely transplants many of the aspects of the recent spate of supernatural thrillers, including an ending directly cribbed from The Sixth Sense,
But what sets apart The Others is the level of talent involved in a genre that usually reeks of cheapness.
One of those talents is Nicole Kidman, who gives the caliber of performance rarely seen in the genre. Kidman’s character is a woman who has lost control of everything outside of the walls of her house, and all she has left is the obsessive control over what goes on inside her house. When she loses that she loses everything and slowly her sanity becomes questionable, but not with the type of over-the-top theatrics a lesser actress would’ve brought to the role. Kidman’s transformation happens in degrees, it’s in her eyes, it’s in small twitches, small idiosyncrasies that convey the changes in Grace’s psyche.
Kidman’s performance is backed by the amazing work of Alejandro Amenabar. Though, as a writer, Amenabar leaves something to be desired (you should be able to guess this “surprise” ending about halfway through the movie) it is as a director and as a composer that he leaves his mark.
There is no gore, no violence, and only a few of the patented “made you jump” sequences that usually accompany big budget horror. The horror comes in the building tension, the slow and steady unraveling of a mystery. It comes from the constantly moving camera, itself a specter circling and observing the action as it hovers in the shadows. It comes from the dark and shadowy production design, which make the house itself an entity, giving personality to the shadowy hallways and darkened staircases. It comes from the wonderful music, with classic Bernard Herrmann-like strings dancing about the action.
But in the end, once that tension and suspense has reached a fevered pitch, The Others resorts to an anti-climactic, predictable and disappointing finale.
So why has this movie, an unexceptional story turned into something worth seeing by a level of talent that usually doesn’t accompany horror films, been receiving such raves? Well, compared to the crap that’s piled up this summer, The Others is a breath of fresh air.
I equate this film’s dizzying praise to a bit Eddie Murphy did in “Raw” about women who make men wait for sex. The bit says something like “After waiting so long to get laid, when you finally do get it you think it’s best damn sex you’ve ever had. It’s like throwing a starving man a cracker, he’ll think it’s the best damn cracker he’s ever had.”
In a summer that has left moviegoers and critics starving for anything that isn’t a total waste of time, you throw them something halfway interesting and extremely well executed and suddenly it’s the best damn cracker they’ve ever had.But let’s not forget were this film truly lies in the pantheon of horror classics. A spooky, sometimes frightening thriller whose derivative elements prevent it from being more than it is.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=5495&reviewer=255
originally posted: 08/19/01 06:47:11