Revisiting movies I've recently acquired
I have to say that I was surprisingly pleased by The Others. Despite being a supernatural film, the film actually holds much of the drama and conflict between the characters rather than with the supernatural elements, giving the story a good deal of perspective as we question the truths behind the different characters. And while the layers of twists in the film and supernatural drama element will inevitably draw comparisons to The Sixth Sense, the film is rather enjoyable on its own merits, thanks to a well scripted story, period details, solid direction and good performances.
Set on the isle of Jersey off Normandie shortly following World War II, Grace Nicole Kidman is confined to her manor home on the account of her children's allergy to sunlight. Three servants, led by Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) answer an advertisement for servants to help around the house and join the household just as the children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) begin encountering some things going bump in the night, which sets Anne up in a conflict with Grace, who doesn't believe what she says. And then the children are aware of a secret that Grace doesn't want exposed.
In many ways, this story is about ghosts, in particular, about haunting, whether the specter of the war haunting the family in the missing father, the mystery of what Grace did that upsets the children or the presence of "the others" in the house and the story is very well put together in the exploration of its mysteries, the building of suspense, and the many well constructed twists. The story does end up being a touch less affecting, since we don't really get to understand Grace's pain, but on a more surface level, the film is exciting, avoiding too many cheap scares and focusing more on inter-character conflict, keeping us guessing about the motivations and backgrounds of the various characters. And that makes for exciting cinema.
Writer-director Alejandro Amenábar does a great job of making the most of stillness and silence and the story's details make for some great spooky tricks, like the children's light allergy creating a plot device, but also keeping much of the film bathed in darkness and his sparing use of spooky details helps keep the things going bump alive in the audience's imagination. This is also helped by the great period setting and those details brought to the production of the film, giving it a distinct grounding in its time. The film is also helped by the performances, with Flanagan doing great at turning between sympathetic to chillingly ambiguous and the children being quite convincing. Kidman herself does a decent job and, although she's not stellar here, she doesn't detract in the selling of the film.
Upon a second viewing, even with full knowing of all the coming twists, I still found the film to be pretty interesting, although nowhere near as shocking as the first time through, especially in looking at how the characters interact with each other given what I knew. And that the film holds together well even with the twists revealed suggests to me that this is a well crafted psychological/supernatural horror. One that captures its themes of haunting well. And although it might miss the boat in connecting with Grace on an affecting level, the mystery and horror aspect of the film, as well as the strong command of details by Amenábar makes for entertaining movie-going. And that's enough for me to continue recommending this for those looking for some spooky twists. 8/10.