Spooky haunted house story doles out the chills without spilling a single drop of blood
By Jimmy Gillman
Haunted house stories were once the property of psychological suspense until the special-effects crowd turned them into slasher films and exploitative exercises bent on inventing new ways to dismember people. Thankfully, Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others takes the traditional approach, doling out the chills with an engrossing story that manages to keep viewers on edge without spilling a single drop of blood.
Amenábar, best known for writing and directing Open Your Eyes, a popular Spanish film later turned into the Tom Cruise vehicle, Vanilla Sky, has penned a classically spooky story in which subtlety substitutes for surprise and anxiety replaces action, specifically violence.
Decidedly old fashioned, but always absorbing, The Others is set in 1945 on the Isle of Jersey, a British Crown Dependency. Living there in a remote country house is Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) and her two young children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley).
Though the war has ended, Charles Stewart has not yet returned, leaving the family sullen and anxious after so long a separation. Adding to their isolation is the children’s photosensitivity, making exposure to sunlight potentially deadly and thereby plunging much of the estate into darkness.
It’s a cloistered existence, but one that on the surface appears to be holding up, except for what seems like the usual squabbling among siblings and disagreements between Grace and her opinionated daughter.
Early on it’s casually revealed three servants were once in residence until something occurred one night that caused them to pack up and leave the following morning. Anne, who’s not above telling tall tales, intimates their departure had something to do with her mother, although details remain absent.
Then one day there’s a knock at the door that brings three new servants to the house; matronly Bertha Mills (the always effective Fionnula Flanagan), caretaker Edmund Tuttle (Eric Sykes) and maid Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) each apparently responding to an advertisement Grace placed in a local newspaper.
Once three becomes six, the intrigue and unease accelerate as various storylines emerge and a challenge of wills develops between Grace and Anne, and more ominously, between the fraught single mother and Mrs. Mills.
Style and surprise make up the rest in these kinds of affairs, and The Others scores high in both categories, aided by another outstanding performance from Nicole Kidman, whose portrayal of the melancholy but devoutly Christian Grace echoes the film’s otherworldly qualities.