Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Others Movie Review

Haunted house movies can be kind of fun, but they tend to be formulaic. We’ve come to expect a handful of visuals that seem to appear in every haunted house movie. Some of us still get a kick out of them, just like we do when going to Halloween attractions that always seem to have a guy with a blade-less chainsaw and hockey mask. The Others (2001) shows us some predictable qualities, but strays a bit from the standard haunted house movie.
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman), a devoutly religious mother of two ailing children, has moved her family to a mansion on the English coast while awaiting the return of her husband Charles (The Doctor Christopher Eccleston) from World War II, though he is declared missing. Their children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), both suffer from a rare photosensitive disease that renders them extremely vulnerable to sunlight, prompting Grace’s rule of having only one door open in the house at a time. When Anne begins claiming to see ghosts, Grace first suspects her newly arrived family of eccentric house attendants are responsible, but chilling events and visions soon lead her to believe that something supernatural is indeed going on.
Surely you’ve seen a haunted house movie before. What do you expect to see in such a movie? Flashy visual effects, violent shocks, telescoping hallways, doors that will not lock or will not open, graves opening in the basement, blood oozing from the walls, etc?  None of that is in The Others. In fact, just about the only haunted house cliché in The Others is the token bit of dialogue that seems to appear in every haunted house movie, “There’s something in this house. Something… diabolic.” While I’m a big fan of the creepy antics in Poltergeist (1982), it was refreshing to see a haunted house movie that deviates so much from the norm.
The tone in The Others is also different. Normally such movies go out of their way to create a sense of foreboding and disquiet. While The Others did create a spooky quality when called for, it primarily had this languorous, dream-like feel; almost as if you weren’t sure if any of it was actually happening.
The director, Alejandro Amenábar, also did some really neat things with lighting. Because of the children’s photosensitivity the curtains in the house were always drawn in scenes with the children, so the house was often stiflingly dark with oil lamps and candles lighting the scene. Other times the curtains were open, shedding lots of light onto the scene and leaving nothing to the imagination. That gives the audience a reason to think spooky beings are lurking around the house until a well-lit scene comes a long and we’re shown there isn’t. And that gives us a distressing sense of uncertainty that allows us to relate to Grace as she questions the possibility of supernatural presence. The lighting also helped develop the characters, Grace particularly; the lighting technique where half of a character’s face is illuminated (as you can see in the movie poster) is often used to depict the character torn between two possibilities, or to depict uncertainty. This technique is used with Grace a lot as she carries an oil lamp with her through the house.
Grace was a good character; she’s a devoutly religious woman, she loves her children, and wants what’s best for them. Nicole Kidman does a fine job of depicting these qualities in Grace. She’s not a typical horror movie hysteric. Her reaction to the strange goings on around her home is completely reasonable, even relatable. Her overt religiosity gets a bit annoying at times. I would caution some viewers about The Others if you are sensitive to themes of one’s religious beliefs being challenged or even proven wrong. Grace has trouble accepting the idea of ghosts in her house when she has a very firm belief in the Christian ideas of heaven, hell, purgatory, and limbo.
The Others is rather slow moving, but remains interesting. It’s a little over an hour and a half, but it feels longer than that. And while it shows us that movies can indeed be creepy without being laden with superfluous special effects, we become aware of how much the movie isn’t showing us. The suspense is supposed to be rising, but I imagine the audience is mostly becoming impatient. There is only so much precursory hints of ghosts that you can take before it becomes annoying that you aren’t actually seeing ghosts.
The Others isn’t a bad movie. It remains grounded in the sense that we don’t need mind bending visuals and special effects to generate a creepy feeling. There’s some good cinematography and acting. It’s very atmospheric and spooky. Still, I saw the ending from a mile away. The Others probably won’t impact you that deeply. It’s a good movie for what it is, but chances are you’ll forget about it before too long. I recommend seeing it if you’re in the mood for a safe, but creepy movie. Especially around the Halloween season. But I don’t think it’s worth rushing out to get a copy.

Do you have a favorite Haunted House movie? What is it, and why do you like it so much? Comment below and tell me why!

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