The Others (2001)

Directed by Alejandro Amenábar

I love stories like these — ghost stories or variations on them — particularly when the director understands they work best when they play with your perceptions, not on gruesome details.

Subtlety is the key to good ghost stories, as well as the element of surprise. (Two great examples: the original The Haunting from 1963 and The Innocents (1961), both of which inform The Others.)

The Others knows this and, because it does, is an excellent film. It does have its flaws though, one in particular that I found irritating.

Everyone whispers. I kept cranking up the volume trying to understand what people were saying. While I understand it was part of the mood of the film, and a key to understanding what was going on (the oppressive environment), the filmmakers didn’t fully actualize what they were trying to accomplish.

In other words, in using an important element in creating the tone of the film, they also created an impediment to the viewing of it and this should have been thought through better. It was a problem they didn’t solve.

Having said that, the movie overall was thrilling. Nicole Kidman plays a clenched sphincter of a woman better than any actress around and was perfect for her role.

Also perfect was Fionnula Flanagan, a marvellous actor who is lost on Hollywood which seems to only use her when they need “an Irish actress.”

As for the movie itself, it begins slowly as it lays clues through expository scenes and character introduction scenes.

It doesn’t really give any satisfying explanations for what you are seeing – why the house is kept dark (the reason given seems to the viewer weak, though the Special Features show it is legitimate), why the woman and her children don’t simply move out of the house; why her husband, when he shows up, seems so disconnected; or why the servants are so … well, odd.

Reasons are given for all these things and, while all are seemingly legitimate, for the viewer they seem lame, and this is deliberate. Only at the end of the film do you understand the why of each of these.

As for the end … I’m not sure what I think about it. In terms of the film, it is completely satisfying and works. However, in the context of ghost stories, particularly if you have seen The Sixth Sense, it seems unoriginal. Is this a problem? I don’t know. I don’t think it is, but I’m just not sure.

Of course, I’ve only seen it once. Perhaps on a second viewing this won’t be a question for me.

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