Lionsgate // 2001 // 104 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 16th, 2011
Why are you afraid?
When The Others arrived in theaters in 2001, fairly or not, it immediately drew comparison to M. Night Shyamalan's first hit, The Sixth Sense, which had come out the previous year. The comparison wasn't completely undeserved; they're both ghost stories with similar twist endings, but they play out very differently. Ten years later, Shyamalan's narrow obsession with his twists, no matter the initial reception of that first film, has become something of a joke, while The Others, from Alejandro Amenábar (Open Your Eyes), with its creepy atmosphere and superlative performances, holds up extremely well, much better than I could have expected.
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman, To Die For) lives on a secluded British isle with her two young children while they wait patiently for their husband and father to return from the war. The kids suffer from Xeroderma Pigmentosum, a rare allergy to sunlight that forces Grace to keeps all the curtains closed and all the doors locked. When Anne (Alakina Mann, Girl with a Pearl Earring), Grace's daughter, starts to notice a young boy named Victor in her bedroom at night, Grace is afraid they have an intruder. There's something that she's slow to realize, however, and when she does, it'll tear the family's world apart.
The question above comes right before the not-so-shocking ending of The Others and it's an essential question both inside the film and for us as an audience. Within the context of the story, the question is asked by a voice we've not yet heard and perfectly sets up the finale which, while telegraphed, is put together very effectively in a sensible and interesting way. There are signs all over the place of what's to come, from the start of the movie to this point so, for me, it's more of the solution to a mystery than a shocking twist.
Outside the context of the movie, this unseen voice seems to ask the question directly of us. We are afraid because the film works, and works without a shred of violence. Everything about The Others is oppressive, a cold and clammy atmosphere that reeks of death and decay. The story takes place in autumn with leaves rotting all over the ground and a constant thick fog that envelops everything it touches. The Victorian luxuries of the Stewart family mansion interiors belie its crumbling, dilapidated exterior. All of this, in spite of the occasional mention of German invasion, puts the time and setting askew, as though time has never elapsed. We are scared because everything is wrong, not because anything particularly scary has occurred.
This is the mark of good horror. Alejandro Amenábar uses none of the modern horror trappings to shock the audience. The body count is zero and not a drop of blood is shed. Instead, he relies on mood and performance to deliver the suspense. The only point in The Others that the director tries an outright scare tactic is the "But I am your daughter" scene when Anne appears inhabited by an old woman that was spoiled by every piece of marketing for the film. This well put together moment has its magic ruined by the audience's expectation of it and, in spite of that, the tension is quite effective, which is testament to everything else good about it.
What sets The Others apart from its contemporaries is the acting, which is some of the best you'll find in the genre. I've been mixed on Nicole Kidman forever, from her first film to today, but never has she been more fully in character than in this film. What starts as a concerned, overprotective mother becomes a wildly paranoid woman willing to brandish a gun behind at the opening of every door. The power of her performance lies in her eyes, which have full conviction to the role. This is likely the best work of her career and, whether she lifts up the story or the story lifts her, it doesn't matter; she's simply perfect. Almost better than her, though, is the directing of the child acting, something that is generally awful in films of any genre, but Amenábar gets the absolute most out of his two children here, making for some of the best child acting I've ever seen. Neither has been in many pictures since then, which is a shame, but rarely has there been a more realistic brother/sister relationship on screen, especially for actors as young as these, so props to the kids and props to Amenábar for his direction of them.
Finally on Blu-ray from Lionsgate, The Others looks fantastic. The transfer is a massive improvement over the 2002 DVD release. That's as it should be, but the image is really nice. The interiors feature beautiful colors and fantastic detail at every turn, while the foggy exteriors are perfect. That's the biggest change, as all the older releases suffered greatly from pixilation and artifacts within the shifting gray mist, but none of that is a factor here as we can make out all the obscured shapes within the fog. This is an excellent transfer that would make it worth the purchase alone, but there's also the sound to consider. It's not the extreme upgrade of the picture, but it is an excellent 5.1 True-HD mix that sounds very solid in all channels. The film is full of whispers and the separation is pronounced everywhere, all the time. Amenábar's music, which he wrote himself as scant few directors do, is subtle, but sounds fantastic and, as a whole picture of dialog, sound effects, and music, sounds full and complete.
The complaint I have about the release is that the extras are all pulled from the 2002 Special Edition release, with no update at all. We have a decent featurette on the film, with quality interviews with the stars and solid commentary on the production from the director and producers, but we've seen it before. Moreover on the featurette about the disorder that the kids suffer from, which might have been relevant at the time, but if they were going to include it here, an update is necessary. How is the girl featured doing today? She'd be about twenty now and the foundation her parents helped to start may or may not have progressed, but we can't say without an update. The lack of updated extras is extremely disappointing, but the technical upgrades are more than enough to recommend the Blu-ray disc.
Horror, at its very best, succeeds on performances and atmosphere, not gore, effects, or jump scares. Few modern horror films represent this idea more than The Others. Because it came out so early, it got lost in the shuffle of talk of best horror of the decade. I wouldn't call it the best of those years (for me, that honor goes to either Hostel or [REC], probably depending on which I've watched most recently), but it's right up there, standing up brilliantly to the test of time. With the image upgrade, any horror fan should pick up this Blu-ray disc.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2001
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13