Saturday 10 January 2015

Movie Review: The Others (2001)

An old-fashioned things-that-go-bump-in-the-big-house ghost story, The Others offers up a good mood and a clever twist, but toils breathlessly to get there.

World War Two has just ended, and on the wind-swept, fog-shrouded British island of Jersey off the coast of Normandy, Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives in a large house with her two children Anne and James. Grace is still waiting to hear news about her husband, who went off to the war and has not been heard from since. She welcomes three new servants to replace the previous team of hired help, who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The new housekeeper is Bertha (Fionnula Flanagan), assisted by the mute servant Lydia and the gardener Tuttle.

Anne and James suffer from a unique skin condition that requires them to live in near darkness at all times. As Bertha settles into her new duties, she finds Grace frequently stressed. Anne insists that she can occasionally see a young boy named Victor in the house, but no one else does. Grace labels Anne a liar, causing extreme tension in the household. As time passes there are increased incidents of strange noises from the various rooms, and Grace gradually becomes convinced that there are ghostly intruders threatening her family.

Directed by Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar, The Others tries to inject life into a conventional genre. The film offers the grand setting of a secluded old house with many rooms to explore, dusty furniture covered with sheets, seemingly normal people behaving with a tint of weirdness. There are moments designed to make the viewer jump, some building tension, and one or two good scares. The surrounding bogs and open moors covered in thick fog effectively convey a sense of absolute solitude and no potential of outside relief.

But this is a ghost story, and the tired cliches soon creep in. The piano plays itself, doors take on a mind of their own, drapes are opened when they should be closed, and there are bumps emanating from the most underused rooms. Meanwhile, both Bertha and Grace start to push the envelop of normalcy, and with a minimum of effort, the film offers enough clues for its twist ending to be anticipated well in advance. Once the premise is set, AmenĂ¡bar is left with little to do except more of the same to run down the clock, waiting for the final 10 minutes to unleash the climax.

Nicole Kidman wears an appropriate frown of concern throughout, while veteran Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan is effective as the seasoned housekeeper who progressively assumes control of events. The Others may or may not be ghosts, but the servants always clean up the mess.

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