Put this down to pure ignorance but when I sat down to re-watch 2001’s The Others as part of the Surgeon’s of Horror retrospective reviews in recognition of 20 years since its release, three thoughts came to mind. Firstly, ‘What happened to Chilean film director Alejandro Amenábar?” Of course I had forgotten that he had followed up this film with the brilliant The Sea Inside and Agora. He would take a seven year absence before then coming back to direct Regression starring Ethan Hawke, which admittedly I haven’t seen. The reason for my ignorance is that he simply slipped off my radar, despite having a clear eye for psychologically disturbing stories, especially when you look at his sophomore outing, Open Your Eyes, which would later be remade and retitled Vanilla Sky and star Tom Cruise.
It does feel though that following The Sea Inside, Amenábar lost his edge a little.
Secondly, I have a blind spot when it comes to Nicole Kidman in that I find her grating to watch at the best of times. So I have always been reluctant to revisit it.
And thirdly, I felt that it paled in comparison to other haunting features, such as The Innocents, The Haunting, and The Devil’s Backbone.
Upon my latest viewing, a few things in my mind altered. Namely that not only is The Others a better movie than I gave it credit for, but also that it’s potentially one of Kidman’s best performances captured on screen. This surprised me and also allowed me to scrutinise this in more detail.
Whilst it’s clear that the film was inspired by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the beauty of the film is the slow, enticing pace that Amenábar draws out the suspense and mystery surrounding the small remote house in Jersey.
There are rules and conventions that are set up to pull you in and manipulate your mind, falling into a false sense of security despite always knowing that something is off key. Kidman’s mentally estranged mother Grace with a tight noose around her children Anne and Nicholas, under the strange guise of photosensitivity that forces them to live in the darkness with all curtains drawn.
Then the hired help led by Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanegan) as the nanny, Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) the groundskeeper, and Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) a mute maid, all add fuel to the curiosity that surrounds them all.
Whatever is lurking behind the curtains is soon sent backwards with the surprise visit from Grace’s physically absent husband, Charles (Christopher Eccleston) due to the War, believed to have been lost for dead. His return momentarily puts the needle back in the groove, before it shifts off gear again with curious noises and movement from the house, sending the family into fear that there are ghosts residing with them, only to have the sheets pulled back for the final reveal.
When this happens, our perceptions are left spiralling and we begin to question how we weren’t able to see this all along. Again, this is clever misdirection on the part of Amenábar and is actually strengthened further with repeat viewing. Something I should have done along time ago and proves that either my tastes have changed or as stated at the fore, I was misguided by my previous misconceptions.
- Saul Muerte