1 hour, 44 minutes
Written and Directed by Alejandro Amenabár
Starring Nicole Kidman, Alakina Mann, Fionnula Flanagan, James Bentley, Eric Sykes, Christopher Eccleston, Elaine Cassidy
Set on a lonely island in the English Channel shortly after World War II, The Others tells the story of Grace (Kidman), a young mother raising her two children while she waits for her husband to return from the war. As though their remote home wasn’t isolated enough, the children, Anne (Mann) and Nicholas (Bentley), suffer from a rare medical condition that essentially renders them allergic to sunlight. If they are exposed to normal levels of light for more than a few minutes, they will break out into hives and eventually suffocate. Because of this, every window in the family’s aging mansion must be covered by heavy curtains to block out the light, and every door remains locked to prevent one from opening by mistake and subjecting the children to lethal sunlight. Because she must remain at home to care for the children and oversee every aspect of their lives, Grace grows ever more isolated– especially after the household servants suddenly disappear without a trace.
Help unexpectedly arrives in the form of three servants, Mrs. Mills (Flanagan), Mr. Tuttle (Sykes), and Lydia (Cassidy). Though they are from different social classes, Grace and the children quickly come to rely on Mrs. Mills for her advice and comfort. But their quiet lives soon come to an end, for Grace begins to hear strange voices in the house and though she doesn’t believe it when Anne begins to talk about having seen other people, Grace soon cannot deny that there is more truth to Anne’s tales than she wants to admit and that the house harbors terrifying secrets of its own.
Though The Others was not expected to do well at the box office when it premiered in the summer of 2001, it soon became a word-of-mouth success thanks to its eerie atmosphere, stellar acting, and the shocking twist at the end.
Though the ghost story itself is expertly told, The Others is about more than a haunted house. The little family’s complicated interpersonal relationships and their individual psychologies are just as important to the plot as any other presence they might sense. Grace has been left alone to deal with the house, the servants, and her medically fragile children. Though she has maintained a tight control over herself, it soon becomes apparent that she is unraveling– and has been doing so for some time. One source of Grace’s distress comes from her own daughter, Anne, who is old enough to begin thinking for herself and questions Grace at every turn. When Anne is unfairly punished because Grace believes she is telling lies about seeing other people in the house, she lashes out at her little brother in childishly cruel ways. And yet it’s clear that Anne loves Nicholas, despite the small torments she heaps on him. When things are most frightening, Anne protects Nicholas as well as she can.
Mrs. Mills (Flanagan) is a force to be reckoned with, as well. It is clear from the beginning that she knows more about the house than she lets on, though she is content to let Grace believe what she wants to believe about the place until circumstances finally force Grace to face the truth. Mrs. Mills is at turns filled with grandmotherly concern and eerie intensity, occasionally edging toward threatening.
And lest it be forgotten, there is a touching yet heartbreaking set of scenes when Grace’s husband Charles (Eccleston) returns from the war. He is clearly suffering from his time in combat, but the depth of his despair– and the meaning behind the look on his face when he sees Grace in the fog– can only be understood after a second viewing. Though Charles is only on screen for a few minutes, his presence lingers, causing Grace to mentally unravel that much faster.
With its gloomy setting of a dark and isolated old mansion surrounded by impenetrable fog, a tightly-paced story with complex characters who are expertly portrayed, The Others is the kind of ghost story that creeps down the spine and gets right under the skin, lingering on long after the final credits have rolled.