In The Others, Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar creates an old-fashioned
British chiller. All the standbys are there. Dimly lit passageways, fog, creaky
floorboards, things that go bump in the night. Amenabar adhered strictly to
Alfred Hitchcock's edict that the horror you don't see is much more terrifying
than the horror you do see. In fact, he adheres so closely to it that he's made
a movie in which virtually nothing happens.
Hold on, don't go to sleep yet. This movie is not boring, at least I was not
bored. I was afraid, however, that my fellow movie patrons, several of whom
were under 15, would get restless and make it impossible to pay attention to
the film. The scenes were long, drawn-out, and filled with protracted silences,
and the soundtrack was not nearly loud enough to cloak the voice of anyone who
might decide to start yakking to their neighbor. The theater, though, remained
strangely silent, save for the crinkle of a candy wrapper one row up and a few
occasional yelps of surprise.
This, my friends, is nothing less than miraculous.
Nicole Kidman plays Grace, a mother who lives in an isolated house with her
two children. I hadn't realized that I was in love with Kidman until I saw Moulin
Rouge . In that movie, she was obscenely, heart-breakingly gorgeous. As
such, there was a danger that I would spend most of The Others just staring
at Nicole. Here, though, Kidman sinks completely into the role of the fretful
overbearing parent, and glamour and sexual beauty don't really enter into the
equation. (Okay, maybe her hair IS too perfect.) The movie slightly overplays
the "stiflingly religious parent" card, but other than that, nothing
about Grace seems too contrived or artificial.
Fionnula Flanagan (Waking Ned Devine) plays Mrs. Mills, the nanny.
And Alakina Mann and James Bentley play the children, Anne and Nicholas, pallid
and morose versions of Mary Poppins's Jane and Michael Banks. It is,
as far as I can tell, the first role for both children, and it is their superbly
convincing performances that carry the film. James Bentley is quite good, but
it is Alakina Mann who really shines. She imbues Anne with an intelligence and
precociousness that makes her easy to identify with, but, at the same time,
just a wee bit creepy.
Amenabar takes his sweet time building the suspense, and as a result he may
lose those w ho aren't in the mood, have short attention spans, or simply don't
find the subject matter to be compelling. But he layers on the soft lighting,
atmosphere, and bad omens, until even the most innocent of actions take on a
sinister undertone. As a director, he understands perfectly what is so disturbing
about stillness and isolation.
Because of certain elements, The Others will no doubt draw comparisons
to another movie that will remain nameless. But I think that it deserves to
be judged on its own terms, and not as a reaction to or a copy of the above
I freely admit that a summer of watching (often disappointing) blockbusters
has predisposed me to enjoy The Others. It's a nice change of pace, and
it's the closest thing I've seen to an art house flick since early June. But
any movie that I can watch all the way through with little to no time spent
thinking "they shouldn't have done that" or otherwise second-guessing
is a rare treat indeed. There IS, at one point, a little
too much "this is where we spell everything out for the audience"
exposition for my taste, but it's the only complaint I can think of.
Dear reader, I may have raised your expectations too much by giving The
Others such high marks. Thus, I will again remind you, this is a movie in
which nothing much happens. But if you're the type of person who still sees
a tinge of menace in dusty abandoned rooms, whispered prayers, marionettes,
old pictures, and the soft, slightly dissonant sound of a child's song, then
grab some popcorn, take a seat, and wait for the fog to creep up around you.