Sooner or later they will find you.
There wasn't any excessive gore. There weren't any mutilated monsters or drooling apparitions. Heck, it didn't even have a killer with a name like "Freddy" or "Jason." Yet The Others still went on to become a hit with both critics and audiences who found the film to be scary and frightening with a twisted ending in the vein of The Sixth Sense. Here was a horror movie that defied the rules yet stuck to the most important one of all: be SCARY. In a performance that some found far better than her Oscar nominated role in Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman plays a strong mother who is struggling to keep her sanity in a haunted house that's filled with creaks, thumps and groans at every turn. Oddly enough, the film was produced by Tom Cruise and was released right as Kidman and Cruise filed for divorce. Ah, in Hollywood it was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
Anyhow, this terrifying little fright flick is now on DVD in a two-disc "Dimension Collector's Series," so round up your friends and get ready to scream!
Facts of the Case
It's 1945 on a small secluded island of Jersey, off the British coast. In an old mansion shrouded in fog lives a young mother named Grace (Kidman) and her two young children, the nervous looking Nicholas (James Bentley) and the curt Anne (Alakina Mann). Grace's husband has gone off to the war, leaving her and her two children to wait in solace for his return. Unfortunately for the kids (and Grace) the mansion is like their prison—the two tiny cherubs have Xeroderma Pigmentosum: an allergy to sunlight. If the kids are ever exposed to bright light they will break out into tumors and eventually die. As the film opens, we find out that the house's servants have disappeared in the middle of the night leaving Grace and the kids alone. One day, a group of three servants comes knocking inquiring about work. Hired on by Grace, they are given multiple duties around the mansion, but most follow some key rules: never have more than one door open at any time, and never allow the children to be exposed to sunlight. As the days wear on, things start to get a bit weird in the old house. Anne begins telling Grace about seeing a small boy in her room. Thumps and commotion are heard in the rooms above their heads. And even more disturbing is when the piano begins to play a soft tune…all by itself! Now the family must protect themselves from whoever—or whatever—has invaded their house before…IT'S TOO LATE!!! (I love ending a plot description that way).
This is going to be a fairly short analysis of the film. The fact is that The Others is very much like The Crying Game and The Sixth Sense—once you know the secret, the gig is up. I'm not spilling any beans by telling you that the end of the movie has one of those creepy twists that have come to be commonplace in movies today (heck, even the front of the DVD case reads "a wicked twist of an ending!").
I enjoyed maybe 3/4 of The Others. Writer/director Alejandro Amenábar (whose Spanish film Abre los ojos was the basis for the Cameron Crowe/Tom Cruise oddity Vanilla Sky) certainly knows how to wring suspense out of an audience. The film tends to be heavy on scary set-up: let's face it, nothing is more frightening than being in the basement and hearing creaking footsteps on the next floor…especially when you're supposed to be alone! The Others is filled with these types of scares…creaks, moans, slamming doors…for those who enjoy haunted house movies, The Others will definitely deliver. However, be forewarned that this is not a gory, special effects laden movie ala Thir13en Ghosts (as evidenced by its friendly PG-13 rating). This movie relies heavily on atmosphere and tension to terrify its audience. I can't stress how much this movie owes to The Sixth Sense, right down to its spooky ending. However, the difference between the two films lies in the pacing—where The Sixth Sense unfolds into a climax, The Others tends to be a let down by the time the last fourth rolls around. In fact, after watching the ending (which I dare not spoil here), I went back and watched the first half again and was still a bit confused as to how everything worked out cohesively. However, what the film lacks in understanding it makes up for in scares. There were many moments of sheer terror in this movie, something I haven't felt for sometime (did I just sound like Darth Vader there or what?).
Nicole Kidman really comes into her own as Grace, a woman shattered by love and confined without a choice to a house of darkness and dread. I've never been a huge fan of Kidman (I think that To Die For was the only movie I recall enjoying), though with this single effort I find myself drawn to seeing more of her films. She goes from meek to angry to scared to baffled in a nanosecond, and does it all with a dash of classiness. The other standout in the film is Fionnula Flanagan (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood) as the mysterious Ms. Mills. Both Kidman and Flanagan did such a good job with their respective roles that Oscar nods should have been in their future for 2001. Alas, they were overlooked, which is why I think the Academy Awards are a big steaming pile of cow pie. (And yet, I watch every year. Pathetic or what?) For one of the first times I wasn't completely annoyed at the two child actors in this movie. Normally I can't stand those cheeky little scene-stealers trotting around onscreen as they make a general nuisance themselves. For The Others, the casting director did a nice job of finding realistic children who don't make you want to hurl objects at the screen. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, anyone?
My only real complaint aboutThe Others (aside of its sometimes slow storyline) is that I was fairly confused at the ending. Of course, I won't say what happened (pipe bombs in my mailbox are not welcome), but I will say that I went away scratching my noggin like a dim-bulbed Neanderthal. I mean, I got what happened, I just didn't understand the logic. Either way, I still recommend The Others for those who think that Hollywood only makes gory, run-of-the-mill horror movies. There's nary a drop of blood in this movie, but it sure did freak me out. The performances are great, the story better than average and the ending…well, just slightly confusing.
The Others is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This film is filled with an abundance of darkness and shadows, which can often lead to a somewhat murky transfer. Thankfully, Dimension/Buena Vista has done a fine job of making sure that all of the black levels appear solid and very well saturated. The color schemes—what there are of them—also very solid though a slight bit muted (this is not so much a transfer issue as it is a director's decision). Aside of a slight amount of artifacting, I found this transfer to very pleasing to the eye and a solid effort by the Mouse House.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. Director Alejandro Amenábar is usually very involved with the sound mixes on his films (obviously, since he also composed the soundtrack), so he has a lot to do with how this soundtrack feels. The surround feature is very ample with directional effects filtering through the front and rear speakers, especially with Amenábar's atmospheric music score. While this isn't a throbbing, action flick-like pulse pounding mix, it's very apt for the film it supports. No distortion or hiss was detected during any of the dialogue, effects, or music. Also included on this disc are Spanish subtitles as well as English closed captions.
All right, I gotta bone to pick with Dimension. When I first received The Others for review, I remember thinking, "Wow, look how big this is! Two discs full of extra features!" Oh, how wrong I was. I may not be the savviest person when it comes to compression and time space on DVD, but from the looks of this set, I think that all of this material could easily have been squeezed onto one single disc without compromising the picture quality.
Anyhow, the supplements on this disc are only moderate to fair, the best of them residing in the documentary "Xeroderma Pigmentosum: The Story of a Family Dealing with the Disease." Apparently, there are children and people out there who do suffer from an allergic reaction to the sun. This far too short peek at this crippling diseases includes interviews with Karen and Dan Mahar and their daughter Katie, who suffers from the disease (only about 1,000 cases are known worldwide), as well as Dr. James Cleaver discussing the disease's affects on the human body. I dare say that I was far more interested in this small piece on the disease than I was the movie itself…
Next up is a 22-minute featurette on the making of The Others. This is a bit more in-depth than your usual promo piece, as it includes interviews with the cast and crew discussing the film's success and what it was like to work on the production. The interviewees include actors Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan, producers Paula Wagner and Sunmin Parks, and director Alejandro Amenábar discussing multiple aspects of the story, its production and its success. This is a cool look into The Others, though much like the documentary on the disease, it's over with much too quickly.
Finally there is a short eight-minute behind-the-scenes look at director Amenábar at work with Kidman and the cast titled "An Intimate Look at Director Alejandro Amenábar," a visual effects piece that shows how some of the CGI work was done (it's very subtle, so don't get too excited), a stills gallery of about 40 behind-the-scenes still and publicity photos, and a theatrical trailer for the film.
The Others is proof positive that sometimes style does win over substance. Horror and thriller fans will delight in this original spin on the old haunted house tale, though be forewarned—its often plodding pace may alienate some viewers. Dimension's work on this DVD is good, though as "Collector's Series" two-disc set it falls far below great DVD standards.
A good time was had by all…even though I was the only one watching. The Others is free to go! Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Dimension Films
• "A Look Inside The Others" Documentary
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