For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Latin Directors, here’s a review of The Others (2001) by S.G. Liput from Rhyme and Reason.
Thanks again to Anna of Film Grimoire for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s Genre has been chosen by James of Back to the Viewer. We will be reviewing our favorite movies featuring a dystopian world (past or future). Please get me your submissions by 25th April by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org Try to think out of the box! Great choice James!
Let’s see what S.G. thought of this movie
Deep within an old household
Where darkness lurks behind locked doors.
Grace must teach, protect, and scold
Her children, whom the light abhors.
Servants three arrive to seek
Employment here in isolation;
Strange events and portents wreak
Distress on Grace’s situation.
Doors once closed do not stay so,
And faithful sureness yields to fear.
Voices flow, and noises grow,
And needed curtains disappear.
Grace is faced with desperation,
Revelations worth a scream.
As the servants’ motivation
Shows, things aren’t as they would seem.
As I’ve stated before, I’m no fan of horror cinema. The really old classics are often slow and plodding, and as the genre got more interesting, it became either laughably campy or disturbingly violent. I don’t mind being tense or scared, but it’s a rare film that can accomplish this without insulting my sensibilities. (I suppose I’m more sensitive than most filmgoers, but that’s me.) Thus, I’m not surprised that it took me over a decade to finally see a horror film of the kind that I enjoy, one that substitutes gore for dark apprehension and Gothic mystery. Like M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, it’s a mostly clean but thought-provoking nail-biter that features better acting and a more authentically unsettling atmosphere than the cheap thrills of most modern horror.
The film most reminded me of a Gothic holonovel from Star Trek: Voyager, in which Captain Janeway plays a new governess for two secretive children who seem to see spirits. The plot itself is different but the similarities are there and stem from much older sources, such as Henry James’s ghost story The Turn of the Screw. Nicole Kidman is in peak form as the mother Grace, balancing genuine concern for her children’s well-being with an increasingly troubled demeanor that, along with clues from young Ann and Nicholas, causes us to question her sanity. Though the film starts out with a scream, there’s nothing initially that is particularly gloomy. Grace lives in a fancy, well-lit home and accepts three new servants (including Fionnula Flanagan, Lost alert!) onto the secluded premises, all of whom seem more or less friendly at first. Yet things get dark quickly and literally as the curtains are drawn to protect her photosensitive children from the light that can kill them. The children seem essentially normal otherwise and aren’t any cause to be scared, but the claustrophobic darkness that surrounds them gets heavier over time, held in by doors that must be closed and locked.
Like Shyamalan’s films, there is a twist toward the end that changes everything, a twist I sadly already knew of, as is often the case with surprise endings. (The Sixth Sense and Fight Club were already spoiled for me; and there’s only one film left that I know has a twist ending I’m still ignorant of, and I want to keep it that way. I don’t want to reveal it, or someone may tell me in a comment.) Because of this knowledge, the impact of the reveal was lessened, but the spookiness of the story itself certainly wasn’t. The Others taps into the anxiety of hearing a noise at night and having to go investigate it. In real life, there’s usually nothing there; in the movies, it’s another story. Some scenes are meant to just scare, such as a foray into a room full of sheet-covered furniture, while others frighten while also planting unfathomed clues that become clearer over time. After seeing it, I at first didn’t think it had affected me, but once I was alone at night with doors that remain closed to keep the cat out of certain rooms, I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder at every bump and creak. Rather than nightmares or disgust, it’s a film that fosters an uneasiness that tends to linger afterward.
However, again like most of Shyamalan’s films, the carefully concealed truth doesn’t necessarily hold up to intense scrutiny. There are any number of ways and film comparisons that I could use to sum up the film’s central mystery, but I don’t wish to spoil it for anyone. Basically, there are two worlds that tend to intersect, but the time and manner in which they intersect seem mostly random, apparently for the sake of keeping the characters and audience ignorant. In addition, there’s much religious musing about limbo and martyrs, which tends to confuse Catholic teachings and ultimately has no payoff or purpose in the conclusion, replaced by apparently occultist leanings. Likewise, there’s a brief appearance from Grace’s soldier husband (Christopher Eccleston), who doesn’t add anything to the story or stay long enough to make any impression other than that of a catatonic Doctor Who.
Despite these faults, The Others is a Shyamalan-esque chiller that Spanish director and writer Alejandro Amenábar can be proud of, having provided an intriguing explanation for why ghosts do what they do. I keep comparing it with Shyamalan, due to its slow delivery of hidden truths and other elements (kids seeing apparitions like in The Sixth Sense, an unsettling drawing like in Signs), and I tend to think that anyone who liked his early films will enjoy this one. Yet whereas The Sixth Sense’s denouement was bittersweet, that of The Others is creepily melancholy. Of the two, I definitely prefer The Sixth Sense, but The Others is still an atmospheric horror of the type I wouldn’t mind seeing again. If only there were more like it….
Best line: (Grace, answering her children’s fears) “Well, if you see a ghost, you say “Hello!” and you continue on studying.”
Movie-Rob style Rating: Oscar-Worthy
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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