Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others has graced my shelves a good 10 years or more. Oh, it wasn’t because I didn’t like the film. On the contrary, I had loved the film when I saw it in 2001. My fear was that a second viewing would make me love it less, since it was so much a mood piece that worked, to some degree, on what you didn’t know — something that can never be repeated. I finally took it down last week for this review, and found all my fears were for nothing. It was just as creepy, just as atmospheric, just as effective on the second go around. Yes, I knew what was going on this time, but Amenábar’s film is so beautifully crafted that nothing is going to dispell its mounting sense of terror, and some touches — like the so-called “Book of the Dead” — are impossible to shake. The story is fairly simple — a young widow (Nicole Kidman) lives alone in a dreary, fog-shrouded old house on the island of Jersey with only her two children. The time is shortly after World War II (when the island was occupied by the Nazis). Her servants have vanished without notice, leaving her and the children to fend for themselves. Plus, the children suffer from some strange malady that renders them allergic to sunlight, requiring a constant monitoring of any light that might seep into the house. With all this, she’s not too concerned about where the three strange servants who turn up have come from. But are they what they seem? And are they really alone in that house? The strictly religious mother doesn’t believe in ghosts — yet something is clearly not right.
Truly great cinematic ghost stories are rare indeed. What are there? Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (1944), Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), Peter Medak’s The Changeling, J.A. Bayona’s The Orphanage (2008) and this one are the only titles I can think of that can really be called great. And I’m not at all sure that The Others isn’t the best of them — though I wouldn’t want to be held to that. (I felt the same way about The Changeling and The Orphanage the last time I saw each of them, too.) The central performances by Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan are impeccable. It’s too bad that Kidman was Oscar nominated for this and Moulin Rouge! the same year — chances are she could have won for either, but the two films split the votes.
The Thursday Horror Picture Show will screen The Others Thursday, June 27, at 8 p.m. in the Cinema Lounge of The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.