When watching The Others, you begin to realize that it’s building up to something. Of what, you’re not quite sure, but you figure out that director Alejandro Amenábar is slowly attempting to raise tension, draw you in, and then possibly frighten you. Like many haunted house movies, things go bump in the night, although we rarely, if ever, see them. All will be revealed in the end, we think.
It’s true that something does get revealed, and that there is a climax, but it’s not what you might think. I’ll admit that The Others tricked me, although in hindsight, some of its twist was pretty obvious and an attentive viewer will probably figure it out. The second part is likely to get most of the audience, and if that type of payoff is what you’re looking for, you’ll be happy after the movie ends. If you’re hoping to actually see ghosts cause havoc to the lives of innocent people, you’ll be disappointed.
The Others centers on a family living in a remote house in Jersey. Nicole Kidman is Grace, a Catholic woman who homeschools her children because they are photosensitive and will burn if the sunlight touches them. Her housekeepers have disappeared, and after putting out an ad for new ones, three arrive on her doorstep. The main servant is named Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), the gardener is named Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and the third is a mute girl named Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). They’ve cared for the house before, we’re told, although Grace has instituted a few rules since their last tenure.
Because of her children’s disease, Grace has decided that blinds must always be left closed, and that candlelight is the way that they will conduct their lives by. If you enter a room, you must close the door you entered by and lock it. Grace believes that light can’t get under a door if it is locked, or something silly like that. Anyway, those are the rules, and the new servants have to live by them. There is no man of the house, as he left to fight in World War II, and is presumed dead — although Grace tells the children that he’ll be home someday soon.
Before you know it, things start going wrong in the house. The eldest child, Anne (Alakina Mann), believes that a child named Victor has come into the house. Maybe he’s a ghost, maybe he’s not. She also claims that there is an entire family living there, although she has only seen some of the members once or twice. Grace starts freaking out, seeing things, and the new housekeepers aren’t helping all that much. They also seem to be planning something, although what that is, we can’t be certain.
Essentially, as far as we’re concerned, the house is haunted. Whether it actually is or not doesn’t particularly matter, as we’re seeing certain things happen with no feasible explanation. The characters are scared, and we get a little bit spooked as well. Or, we would if something happened more frequently and there weren’t as many lulls as The Others contains. Atmosphere can only get you so far. While this is a film that does well with its atmosphere building, it forgets that a solid story and events are what we’re going to be grasping onto. Because it doesn’t contain either, characters frequently sit around seemingly waiting for something important to happen.
A lot of the time we spend with this movie would be better spent elsewhere. If edited down to the parts that actually matter, we would have a pretty good short film. Or if more important moments were added, the dull ones might not have mattered as much. Sure, you have a strong atmosphere, but what else can you give me? There’s little in the way of substance in this movie. It’s effective at what it does, but what it does isn’t ultimately worth the effort.
That’s not to say all is lost. Like I mentioned earlier, the twists that come near the end are clever and well-done, leaving you feeling fooled but not cheated, which is important. These twists don’t really lead anywhere, but their inclusion works to the film’s advantage by giving it more depth than it initially appears. There are clues throughout the film regarding them, and if more interesting things happened throughout the first two acts, I might be inclined to give it a second watch just to catch them.
The acting is also very solid, except for on the part of the youngest child, Nicholas (James Bentley). Granted, you can’t generally expect a superb performance from someone so young, but he seemed awkward in front of the camera. The same cannot be said of Alakina Mann, who actually manages to steal the move out from both Kidman and Flanagan’s feet, giving the most memorable performance in the film, and holding her own against both of them.
I don’t think that The Others is worth your time, as it has too many lulls that go on for far too long. It builds a solid atmosphere, but doesn’t do much with it. It has good performances and is very simplistic, which works to its advantage, but I lost focus as it was playing. It almost redeems itself with some late-game plot twists, but sitting through over an hour and a half to get to them simply wasn’t worth it for me, despite being very well-executed.