Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just violence porn, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a shit about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.
Starring: Nicole Kidman (THE BEGUILED , THE GOLDEN COMPASS , BATMAN FOREVER , and the upcoming AQUAMAN ), Alakina Mann (GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING ), James Bentley (THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS  and 1 episode of TV show THE DEFENDERS ), and Fionnula Flanagan (THE INVENTION OF LYING , YES MAN , and TV show LOST [2004 – 2010])
Support: Charles Eccleston (THOR: THE DARK WORLD , G.I. JOE: THE RISE OF COBRA , and 28 DAYS LATER… ), Eric Sykes (SON OF RAMBOW , HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE , and TV show SYKES [1972 – 1979]), Elaine Cassidy (THE LOFT )
Directing: Alejandro Amenábar (REGRESSION ). Writer: Alejandro Amenábar (REGRESSION and VANILLA SKY ). Composer: Alejandro Amenábar. Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe (THE PROMISE , FRIGHT NIGHT , VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA , and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK )
It actually took a long time for this movie to really sink in. Not because I didn’t understand it or anything, but remember when I said that the horror genre wasn’t my thing because of the formula it follows? Well, there was a time when horror movies weren’t my thing because I just simply didn’t like to get scared. I’m nightmare prone. What can I say? In fact, there was a good long time where after I saw it as a kid, I never thought about the movie again. In fact, it was maybe a year ago, around October no less, where the movie came back to my mind.
THE OTHERS is a brilliantly crafted ghost story. Set in 1945, a little after World War II, the story is about a religious mother, Grace (Nicole Kidman), trying her very best to raise her photosensitive children, her older daughter Anne (Alakina Mann), and her younger son, Nicholas (James Bentley), in the confines of their large and empty house. Three former occupants show up to her house in regards to seeking employment to help around the house, the wise and comforting Bertha (Fionnula Flanagan), the oddball Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and the young and mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy).
As they all get acquainted to the new adjustments in the household, we learn what we can about the characters. Grace is a strict Catholic with a strict upbringing for her kids and what must go on in the house. She’s obviously very stressed due to her previous servants leaving without a single notice, and to top it all off, her husband Charles (Charles Eccleston), has not returned from the war and fears he may have died. Nicholas is a young a naive kid, easily frightened by Anne’s stories of ghosts. He just wants to be a good kid and get by, but Anne makes it hard for him. Anne, while not a bad kid, is certainly the more troublesome of the two. She alludes to a “that day” when their mother went “mad,” but never really explains what it was that happened, so there’s always a disconnect between her and her mother. Things are never helped when Grace catches wind of the ghost stories she tells Nicholas.
But as it turns out, Anne’s stories may bear some truth. Grace hears the crying of a child that never came from her children, as well as ominous footsteps from upstairs, Nicholas hears Anne talking to a boy that he can’t can’t see. These are some of the best moments in the movie. The echo of the crying child throughout the halls is chilling. The whispering between Anne and the ghost boy Victor, it’s all wonderfully executed and leaves you pretty uncomfortable. I also love the scene involving Grace’s first real encounter with the intruders. At first, she thinks that the incessantly loud footsteps on the second floor are from Lydia. Requesting that Mrs. Mills tell her to keep it down, she does so, but the footsteps don’t stop. Having enough, Grace is about to give Lydia a piece of her mind, but sees Mrs. Mills talking to Lydia outside. Suddenly, we know something’s going down. Grace heads into a bright room with a ton of white sheets covering a slew of knickknacks. She hears both footsteps and voices, which causes her throw the sheets off of everything in hopes to find the intruders, obviously still not believing that they’re ghosts. But as much as she searches the house, she can’t find anyone.
This movie is one of the most perfect examples of a horror film with good scares. They’re subtle. It’s not about jump scares to wake you up from dozing off. That’s cheap. You can have someone follow you around with a blowhorn and have them scream through it in your ear at random intervals and get the same effect. It’s about leaving you in a state of vulnerability, isolated, claustrophobic, no help, all of this accumulates into a fantastic horror. But in my opinion, what makes this particular scene so great, the scares are happening in a room that’s brightly lit and during daylight. Any lesser horror film would constantly keep the horrors at night. Well, okay, to be fair, the darkness is definitely creepier to shoot scary scene in, and it’s not like this movie doesn’t do it either, but it’s still a brilliant feat to have in a bright setting and make it legitimately uncomfortable, and far more memorable.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal. Kidman delivers probably one of her finest performances of her career and reminds me why I had the biggest crush on her for the longest time. Awe hell, who am I kidding? I still do. I still think Kidman is beyond gorgeous and impossibly talented. You really feel for Grace who is thrust in this supernatural situation that goes completely against her beliefs as a Catholic. Religion and otherworldly encounters certainly intersect in horror films a lot, but I feel like Grace is played into it much more effectively. It’s not just a simple denial of the evidence right in front of the protagonist’s face, Grace has legitimate reason to not believe in anything that’s happening. She’s a die-hard Catholic who believes that God wouldn’t allow the world of the dead to collide with the world of the living. While it still is a denial of something that can’t be explained, her lashing out at Anne, and by extension, furthering the disconnect between the two characters, is completely understandable. Grace doesn’t believe in fantasy stories and Anne really is seeing and interacting with ghosts, you can see where this created brilliant drama. But Grace isn’t completely devoid of rationale. When it becomes clear, too clear to ignore, she does eventually take action and decide to leave for the church to bless the house. It doesn’t end up happening, but it’s still a nice moment to know that she isn’t that character that is either coincidentally not around for the supernatural occurrences, or is frustratingly closing her eyes and covering her ears, denying the obvious. Characters like this are always easier to identify with.
Speaking of the child actors, both Mann and Bentley are terrific and it makes me sad that talented young actors like them didn’t quite pursue acting. Yeah, we get weirdos like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin, but those with actual talent like these two fade from memory. Why, God!? Anyway, Anne can be mean-spirited at times, but the reason why you buy it and still sympathize with her is because she is just a kid, and an older sister. It’s always that pecking order among siblings; the younger one is always going to get teased. But not only that, she is raised in this spooky house. She and her brother are forced to stay confined and can’t go outside, lest they break out into sores, suffocate, and die. When you have that kind of upbringing with zero interaction with the outside, no electricity to listen to a radio or a television, I would accept that she’ll look for entertainment in any possible form. No friends, no extended family, it’s really more of a surprise that she’s as well-adjusted as she is. But there are quick subtle moments that are pretty heart-warming. As previously mentioned, Anne and Nicholas are both photosentive, so Grace covers all the windows in the house with curtains that are always closed and the only lighting that exists is a candle flame. There’s a scene where Anne wakes from sleeping and sees that the curtains have been ripped off the windows. The next time we see Anne and Nicholas, they’re taking over next to their beds, but Anne is holding her brother, trying to shield him from the light. It’s quick and probably easy to miss, but having it in there makes for a great little sisterly-love moment.
About the only person that doesn’t get much development is Nicholas. He’s sort of just there to be abused by the circumstances. If it’s not him being teased by Anne, he’s at the business end of a haunting. The poor kid barely ever gets a scene where he can laugh or smile. The closest to real development we get is when these ghostly figures are slowly approaching him and Anne and she’s trying to convince him that they’re ghosts, but because they don’t fit the profile of “bedsheets and clanking chains” that she’s always told him, he doesn’t know if he believes her. That’s about it.
The side characters are sadly pretty hit or miss. The best is obviously Mrs. Mills. Like most older women in horror, she’s kind of creepy, like she knows more about the intruders than she’s letting on. But she’s also so comforting and honest toward Grace and her children, so there’s this brilliant ambiguity that you never know what exactly she knows or doesn’t know. The mystery surrounding her is downright masterful. Sadly, the others don’t get enough of that. Mr. Tuttle is pretty much just another person in the house. He doesn’t interact with the family much, or really with his servant compatriots either, same with Lydia, who could have been a little more interesting, seeing as she’s mute. But sadly, she’s succumbs to that bit of writing where quirks replace identity.
Fans of TV show DOCTOR WHO (2005 – ongoing) will likely recognize Eccleston as Charles, Grace’s long lost husband. This is probably the cardinal sin of the film. Everything involving his character is pure, concentrated fluff and could have been taken out of the film and you wouldn’t have missed a beat. After the piano scene and acknowledging that there’s an otherworldly presence in her home, she leaves to look for a priest to bless the house. But of course, before she gets that priest, she suddenly meets up with Charles on the road. The film takes a hard stop for this. Grace brings him home, he says “hey” to his kids, but then spends a majority of his screen time not interacting with his family, but rather moping in bed. The best scene we get is the final scene with Eccleston, and it’s Kidman that steals the show, not him. Grace is trying to rationalize why he went to war instead of staying home with his family and coming to the realization that he wanted to leave her. But what does the audience learn about him? Sure, we can probably guess that he’s just suffering from PTSD, but that’s only speculation, considering that he does eventually “leave” them after the final scene. And once he does leave, the movie gets right back on track with the missing curtains and what not.
If I were to change anything, I wouldn’t have Charles show up at all. He was completely unnecessary to the plot and leave his fate ambiguous to the family. Just have the piano scene, have her sleep the night off, and in the morning as she leaves, that’s when the kids wake up screaming and just go from there. Later on, Anne could easily decide to run away because she doesn’t want to live with her crazy mom anymore, instead of looking for her dad in the woods. Sure, the movie would probably be fifteen minutes shorter, but with a 101 minute run time, an eighty-five minute length wouldn’t be that noticeable to the common audience.
Overall, this film definitely holds up as not only one of my favorite Kidman performances, but as one of my favorite horror films of all time and I am so happy to have it back in my life. It’s not perfect, but it comes pretty damn close. Close enough that I’ll watch it once a year around Halloween. Honestly, even if you’re not a fan of the horror genre, I really recommend giving this a shot. The scares are more subtle than over-the-top, or certainly annoying. It’s an expertly crafted story with great acting from adults and kids alike. It’s smart, it’s scary, it really is one of the best of its class.
My honest rating for THE OTHERS (2001): a strong 4/5