Shortly after the end of World War II, a woman in the English countryside becomes convinced her home is haunted.
I have watched a ridiculous amount of horror films in preparation for our 31 Nights of Thrills series over the past few months, and in that time I have seen some absolutely abysmal entries into the horror genre. I’ve watched movies so bad that I had to force myself to sit through them for the sheer reason of being able to write a review; I’ve watched films so poorly conceived that it’s a wonder they ever left preproduction; I’ve watched movies that I had previously thought were okay, and then on revisiting them I discovered they were horrible; and then I’ve also managed to watch a few films that are still absolutely wonderful. “The Others” is one of the better films I’ve watched for this series. It was one of the first horror films I ever watched as a kid; it frightened me then, and it still gave me chills this time. This is a film that I find still maintains it’s watchability even after you’ve already seen it once and know the twist. It’s a film that works on the great direction of Alejandro Amenabar, an astounding performance from Nicole Kidman, and amazing cinematography and atmosphere made better by the locations and production design. This is a truly tense film that works on almost every level; it’s got the perfect amount of creepiness for any chilly fall day.
“They say the house belongs to them.”
The year is 1945; the war has ended, and Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman, “Eyes Wide Shut”) is awaiting the return of her husband, Charles (Christopher Eccleston, “Shallow Grave”). Grace’s children, Anne (Alakina Mann, “Girl with a Pearl Earling”) and Nicholas (James Bentley, “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers”), are photosensitive and have to be kept out of direct sunlight. As a result, the Stewarts live in a world of darkness, hidden away behind thick curtains. At the start of our story, three new servants arrive at the grim manor; Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan, “The Guard”), Mr. Tuttle (Eric Skykes, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”), and a mute girl named Lydia (Elaine Cassidy, “Disco Pigs”). As the new servants adjust to the lifestyle of the Stewarts, Grace finds herself increasingly paranoid that some other presence might be in their home.
First and foremost, the writing and overall story for this film lend themselves to be wonderfully atmospheric. The old home in which the Stewarts live is dripping with shadows and is surrounded by bare branches and foggy landscapes; in short, it looks and feels like a haunted home ought to feel without feeling too theatrical. The reason the house is so dark all the time is important to the story, and therefore makes the tense atmosphere throughout the film feel completely justified and earned. Amenabar has created a world where the rules are understood, and the rules also heighten the creepiness of the world we’re in. Another thing I like about this film is that it doesn’t waste your time at all. The film is of a moderate length- only about an hour and forty-five minutes long- but that time is utilized extremely carefully. There isn’t a scene in this film that isn’t necessary, and there aren’t any moments that feel incredibly lengthy just to garner more atmosphere. The film maintains an underlying layer of tension throughout its entirety, while constantly providing clues as to what’s going on, and slowly ramping up the tension. This film feels somewhat reminiscent of Shirley Jackson novels in the way that they establish their worlds before slowly easing you into the tension. As far as haunted house movies go, this is easily one of the better ones.
Another place where this movie really excels is in the acting. Nicole Kidman absolutely kills it as Grace Stewart; the way she acts with her eyes in this film is particularly impressive. There are a lot of scenes where Kidman is simply exploring rooms, or searching for something, and these scenes are still tense because of the way Kidman is able to hold herself and convey her feelings of terror without completely overselling it. I think that’s the thing that I like best about Kidman’s acting in this film; she’s able to raise the stakes in her acting without ever going too far. Without Kidman, this movie would’ve suffered immensely. Fionnula Flanagan was also really good as Mrs. Mills. Flanagan is an actress I’ve seen a thousand times before but never really learned her name. She’s someone I know by face but couldn’t tell you what else I’ve seen her in. In this movie she’s incredibly memorable, and she does a great job of coming off as creepy while playing her character relatively straight.
As far as atmospheric thrillers, this is one of the better ones in contemporary cinema (strange to think this movie is already seventeen years old, though). This is a disquieting, well thought out story that is elevated by an excellent actress, some fine direction, and great locations and production design. If you’re looking for a good thriller with some truly frightening sequences, then this is the film for you.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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