“Whatever you do – don’t open the curtains,” Grace demands of the new servants in “The Others.” It certainly wouldn’t hurt Grace and her two pale-faced children to get a little sun – except for the fact that the kids are photosensitive and their allergy to light could be fatal. For the record: I checked, and such a disease does exist!
Anyway, Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her family live in a huge mansion in the English countryside, and she doesn’t work (but this is after World War II, and she’s waiting for her husband to return from the war), so I was sure she had a huge inheritance or a hefty settlement or something. In any case, she can afford to hire the three strange servants who appear out of nowhere – and still manage to pay off the bill on the house. Once The Others is in full swing, however, finances become the least of Grace’s worries.
The Others is a restrained and clever ghost story, along the lines of The Sixth Sense – except that The Others has only a couple of juicy shocks and undoubtedly requires multiple viewings. I mean, someone in the film warns, “There will be some big surprises,” and he’s right, except there’s only one surprise, and some viewers may not consider it that big a deal.
I will admit that I was surprised by the subtle and clever ending of The Others, mostly because I was regularly checking my watch about 30 minutes before the climax. The Others is like a cross between The Haunting and any Merchant-Ivory film – in other words, it’s a ghost story that talks your ear off. Twenty minutes on the editing suite would have made this scary movie ideal.
But the straightforward story unfolds without shoot-em-up fireworks or other special effects and pyrotechnics, so you have to give Alejandro Amenabar, writer and director of The Others, some credit. Especially since what he lacks in narrative gusto, he more than makes up for with eerie atmosphere. Grace’s mansion, for example, is a stately apparition, resting in pea soup mist and at certain angles reminiscent of footage from Universal – from the days when Frankenstein roamed the backyard. Inside, it takes full advantage of the shadowy hallways and all the squeaks, creaks and clangs.
Amenabar can also set up a scene like a pro – one that has a chilling effect, such as when Grace hears a strange noise in the attic. He sends her up the stairs – careful at every turn – and into a room full of antiques covered with white sheets. Then he frantically has her unwrap the antiques until she glimpses a closed door through the mirror of a dressing table. What’s in the attic, you ask? Well, I’ll never tell!I will, however, reveal the following: Nicole is endearing and luminous even as a plain-Jane type – she gives a strong and full-bodied performance as a mother and sole protector of her children. Her character, Grace, orders servants to make sure one door isn’t opened until the previous one is locked – don’t ask, but that leads to many misplaced keys in tense moments. And Grace’s daughter claims to see people – maybe dead people, maybe not – wandering freely around the house. And finally, what’s with the curtains? There’s a lot of trouble with the curtains in “The Others” – I don’t think Hollywood has made such a fuss about window dressing since “The Cobweb” (1955).