At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Others “01”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/Genre: Gothic Supernatural Psychological Horror/ Stars: Nicole Kidman, Finnoula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Alakina Mann, James Bentley, Alexander Vince, Eric Sykes, Elaine Cassidy, Keith Allen, Renée Asherson, Michelle Fairley, Gordon Reid/ Runtime: 104 minutes

I think it is safe to start this review off by admitting something to you my loyal readers. That being that whenever I am asked about what ways I enjoy seeing elements that are terrifying, spooky, and/or just plain supernatural portrayed in cinema, I am quite often and very much divided on the subject. This is because whilst yes there are slices of cinema that I adore that utilize buckets of blood and jump scares a ‘plenty in order to lure in the audience and then leave them hooked into whatever is going on, that is not exactly my first preference since that’s not what made me fall in love with this type of cinema in the first place. Rather, I am someone who loves more than anything when a spooky slice of cinema chooses to make the hair on the back of your neck stand and the chills you feel down your spine occur through means that are as subtle and low-key as you can make them and also by choosing to not only let the mood dictate where things go, but also by letting your imagination ultimately be the thing which scares you the most. Indeed make no mistake dear reader: contrary to what a lot of modern horror cinema seems to suggest, you really do not need that much in the way of effects work in order to increase a film’s chill factor nor do you need to beat an audience over the head with a smorgasbord of jump scares and/or fake-outs to make your slice of cinema instantly iconic. This is because, as film helmers from Carpenter to Spielberg have shown us, it is more about what you don’t see, what you don’t know, and ultimately what you can feel about a horrific menace before it even comes onto the screen through music cues and the like that can ultimately prove to be the things to give a delighted audience the nightmares that they so desperately came to your slice of cinema to acquire….or something to that effect. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because I believe the slice of cinema, 2001’s The Others, is most assuredly a proud member of the second group that I was mentioning to you. Indeed here is a story of the supernatural that has no blood, no gore, very little in the way of jump scares, and yet is still seen as a marvelous entry in the realm of spooky stories from the decade of cinema known as the 2000s. A feat that it has managed to achieve incidentally through the fact that in many respects this slice of cinema right from the word go has the atmosphere of a ghost story that you may have heard around a roaring campfire to the point that you not only might feel the phantom heat from that fire, but you will also the familiar shivers of fear and anxious unease as you watch this story play out whilst waiting for the other shoe to drop and the horror to begin settling in. A horror that this slice of cinema manages to triumphantly deliver with a payoff that is easily one of the most ingenious of the past 2 decades. Yet when you also factor in incredible work in front of the camera by Nicole Kidman and a talented group of fellow thespians and top-flight skill from behind the camera by film helmer Alejandro Amenábar and his team then what you are left with is not just a delightfully spooky ghost story, but rather a wonderful slice of cinema period to say nothing of one that is definitely worth watching whenever you need that chill down your spine and regardless of if it is your 1st or your 51st time watching it.

The plot is as follows: The Others takes us back in time to a post-World War 2 1945 and places us at a fairly decent sized manor estate located on the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel where we are quite quickly introduced to a slightly dotty if not overtly religious woman by the name of Grace whose soldier for a husband has been missing in action since before the war ended and their pair of children by the names of Anna and Nicholas respectively. It is also worth noting that this family trinity has been completely cut off from the outside world due not only to Grace suffering from migraines hence no television, radio, or loud noises of any kind really, but also because Anna and Nicholas are the unfortunate bearers of a odd illness that saw them deathly allergic to bright light to the point that just going out into the Sun for some fresh air could result in the children dying a most horrific death. Things soon change for this family unit however when out of the fog one morning a trinity of enigmatic individuals by the names of Lydia, Mr. Victor Tuttle, and Mrs. Bertha Mills respectively show up at the estate looking for gainful employment as household servants and who claimed that they knew the house very well having worked there prior to Grace and the family taking up residence there. However it isn’t long after the trio have been re-employed by Grace that we see that odd and slightly spooky occurrences start to occur around the up there in years and slightly dilapidated yet quite large estate. Occurrences which eventually culminate in Anna making claims that she has seen a boy about her age by the name of Victor who, in no uncertain terms, repeatedly tells her that she needs to leave his home. Of course Grace tells her she really needs to stop imagining such things, but it isn’t long before things start to escalate and Grace and the children find themselves with VIP seats to a distinct kind of terror. One that not only does the new help seem to hint that they have some degree of familiarity about, but one that when a series of horrific secrets are revealed and unleashed will shake them to their cores, and have the potential to change their lives forever….

Now behind the camera we see that film helmer Alejandro Amenábar has decided to take notes from several other, and equally as great, slices of terror cinema that are very similar in certain aspects to this one namely The Innocents from 1961 and The Haunting from 1963 in order to best make this creepy, gothic, and fairly cerebral spook tale the most potent he can conjure up. This starts right from the word go as we see several characters walking through a ominously swirling fog, and with that plus the timely reveal of the children’s mysterious photosensitivity, we are able to discern that the film helmer has done a wonderful job in his choice to have his cinematography department bathe this film in an atmosphere that seems to be made up of equal amounts darkness, shadow, and just gloom with often times the only light we are seeing in certain moments coming from lanterns and candles being carried around thus raising the creep factor significantly. I mean with how drab and colorless by and large this slice of cinema is one that easily could have been made in black and white and it would still be just as effective as it is right now if not more so (in fact now that I think about it I would love for the studio that made this to oversee a b&w transfer of this film a’la Logan from 2017 and then release it on theaters around Halloween and then on Blu-Ray). We also see that the film helmer chooses to really lean into the religious iconography in this one only to then take these items like one character’s communion dress or a statue of Jesus or a discussion about where a damned soul might go and give them a seemingly more ominous bent to them. Perhaps best of all though is how the helmer, much like the other two films I previously mentioned, chooses to not make this film a bloody and/or gory affair in order to achieve his intended goal of scaring the pants off of you, the viewer. Instead he chooses to make the simple things like a door in the house creaking open or close, some curtains in the house unexpectedly flying open or shut, some well-placed strides through the various rooms in the house, and just the general ominous and malevolent atmosphere throughout work their intended magic and lo and behold boy do they ever! Finally, I feel that some of the best slices of spooky cinema would be nowhere near as effective as they have turned out to be if they didn’t have the musical accompaniment that they do. Whilst I don’t know if I can honestly say that is the case for this slice of cinema, I can honestly say that the score is also quite potent and chamber-based in nature, but also is old-school in a way that doesn’t deter from the proceedings in any way, but rather contributes to them in a way that is very much appreciated.

Now the other big thing that aids this slice of cinema immensely in being as good as some of its old school peers and better than a lot of similar slices of cinema that have been made both before and after it is the fact that this is one film where the performances across the board are all extremely well-done in every sense of the word. This starts with Finnoula Flanagan and Victor Sykes who, in their roles of Mrs. Mills and Mr. Tuttle respectively do a great job at playing two people who are amiable and decent enough yet who also possess a nature that is more than a tad bit mysterious as well. Yes you could argue that this pair of characters are ones you’ve seen before, but Miss Flanagan and Mr. Sykes still bring enough novelty to the mix to really make these two characters their own. I also really liked the work done by James Bentley and Alakina Mann as Nicholas and Anna. Yes there are moments where the pair tragically fall prey to the “bratty child actors” stereotype, but for the most part the two do a wonderful job with their respective parts and also manage to hold their own from a performance perspective alongside their more veteran counterparts. Yet for how terrific of a job the other members of this slice of cinema’s cast manage to accomplish with their respective performances, this is one slice of cinema that belongs to its lead. It is with that in mind therefore that I should tell you right now that Nicole Kidman is absolutely incredible. Indeed portraying the character of Grace much in the way that fellow actresses Deborah Kerr or even Grace Kelly would have had this slice of cinema been made back in the 50s and 60s, Kidman does a wonderful job at playing a woman who is both doing her best to keep it together psychologically for the sake of her children in the wake of all the creepy occurrences that begin popping up, but who herself shows signs that perhaps she is not entirely on the up and up mentally either. As a result, we see that this film manages to cause quite the effective internal conflict in the viewer because at no point during this slice of cinema’s 1 minute shy of an hour and 45 minute runtime are we ever quite sure whether we need to be afraid for the character of Grace or if perhaps we should instead be afraid of her more than all the spooky shenanigans that are increasingly afoot in the house. Suffice it to say that Kidman does terrific at not only making this woman feel more like an actual human being rather than a character in a film or even an archetype you’ve probably seen a million times, but also at keeping you riveted and hooked into this spooky saga right from the very start.

All in all if you are the kind of viewer whose idea of a spooky good time is a decent to high body count, bodily dismemberment, a ruthless and psychopathic killer, scenes of characters sneaking off to make out, and other things of that nature then I hate to be the reviewer to tell you this, but you are not going to appreciate what this slice of horror cinema is trying to give you. However if you are the kind of person who prefers atmosphere over blood and psychological chills over blatant jump scares that will make you roll your eyes and groan in exasperation then I am proud to say that you have come to the right place. This is because with The Others, you are getting a truly taut and unnerving slice of cinema that makes the brilliant choice to put what you don’t see over anything gory and/or gruesome in nature and manages to make it work absolutely brilliantly all without a single drop of blood needing to be spilled even from a mild nose bleed. Suffice it to say then that at the end of the day The Others really truly is a winningly creepy and creatively spooky chiller that will, no matter how many times you watch it, remain with you long after the credits begin to roll. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Others “01” a solid 4 out of 5.