The OthersBy Ealasaid Haas
A successful ghost story requires three things: characters we can identify with, just the right amount of freaky events, and a willing audience. The Others nails the first two, and if you're interested in being pulled into this slightly twisted ghost story, you can easily provide the third.
Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two children, Anne and Nicholas (the talented Alakina Mann and James Bentley) are alone in a rambling and rather unnerving mansion as the film begins. We gradually learn a little about how they came to be there. Charles (Christopher Eccleston), Grace's husband and the children's father, went off to war. The servants left without giving notice or collecting their wages a week ago. A new trio of servants arrive, but in this house, normalicy is impossible.
Anne and Nicholas are photosensitive, and cannot stand to be exposed to any light stronger than a weak oil lamp's flame, so doors must always be kept shut to prevent light reaching them. The dim, claustrophobic lighting contributes to Grace's nervous temperment and the audiences nerves, and when strange noises and odd events begin cropping up, we are not surprised.
The surprises come later, after a very satisfying and mystifying series of interactions between the children and "the intruders," and between Grace and the new servants, who appear to know a lot more than they let on. Although the twist ending can be spotted long before the ending, the final sequence is no less hair raising.
The Others is a gripping tale, full of suspense and nerve-wracking moments of dead calm. The small cast is all but overflowing with talent, and it's easy to forget as the film draws inexorably toward the final moments that what you're watching is just a movie.
Kidman is beautifully strained and brittle, and she strikes the perfect note with her performance, making Grace believable as both a loving mother and a woman who's beginning to feel out of her depth. Grace's strength as she defends her children is admirable, although her religious convictions make it very difficult to persuade her that ghosts exist at all, much less that they are taking over her home.
The woefully underused Eccleston, probably best known in the US for his role as the Duke of Norfolk in Elizabeth, makes his handful of scenes memorable as well, when Charles returns home after the war. Both he and his home have changed so drastically that one can't help wondering whether he's more shell-shocked from the war or from the effects the house is having on his family. Eccleston's restrained performance is spot-on.
The one problem The Others might have for some viewers is that it is far from action-packed. It is definitely for moviegoers who tend toward classic films rather than for those who worship at the action movie altar. Its thoughtful pace and sometimes distant camera work may frustrate those used to the fast cuts and constant thrills of most movies today.
For those who like a good spooky yarn, though, The Others is spot on. It provides a deliciciously spine-tingling evening's escapist entertainment without unpleasant reminders of current events. Since the studios' release schedules have been a bit tweaked by the attacks of September 11^th, there is a good chance The Others will be around for several more weeks. It is definitely worth seeing if you somehow haven't managed to catch it yet.