The Others

reviewed by Steve Sailer

UPI, August 9, 2001

 

Unfortunately, I can't fully review "The Others," an old-fashioned haunted house movie starring Nicole Kidman, because I had my hands over my eyes for much of it.

That doesn't mean "The Others" is the scariest movie of all time. It just means that I react to all ghost movies like an exceptionally timid five year old. I'm probably the only person this side of the New Guinea Highlands who hasn't seen all of "The Sixth Sense." After watching ten minutes, I decided it would creep me out too much, so back to Blockbuster it went.

I did, however, peek through my fingers enough to get a general sense of what "The Others" is about. Set in 1945, it's a 1945-style supernatural thriller. There are no special effects, no blood, no jokes, no foul language, no slashers, and no bad girls getting what's coming to them. In short, no nothing to bring out the teen audience.

Not surprisingly, the media screening I attended was full of elderly people enjoying the kind of elegantly crafted but slow-paced movie they watched when they were young. Before the film began, the 75 year old ladies in front of me were admiring how chipper one of their friends appeared despite her 94 years.

Looking rather like Grace Kelly, Kidman (who just this week wrapped up her long-running role as "Mrs. Tom Cruise") plays the high-strung mistress of a fifty-room mansion on the fog-enshrouded English Channel Island of Jersey. Don't expect any local color, though. In the grand tradition of English it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-night suspense stories, the estate is cut off from the outside world by a sinister blanket of fog that thickens when Kidman tries to escape.

You can't blame her for trying to get out. Kidman's soldier husband is missing in action. The previous crew of servants all ran off one night. Her children matter-of-factly debate whether or not "Mummy went mad" recently. And Kidman's spunky young daughter claims she can talk to an invisible boy named "Victor," who seems to think he owns the place.

To increase the claustrophobia and gloom, the young Chilean-Spanish writer-director-composer Alejandro Amenábar came up with a novel gimmick. Kidman's two children suffer from a potentially fatal allergy to daylight. So, she insists that her three new (and increasingly enigmatic) servants keep the blinds drawn and lock each internal door.

By the way, although this disease sounds contrived, it's a rare but real condition. In July, the wife of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl killed herself after a seven-year struggle with her allergy to sunlight, which was triggered by a bad reaction to penicillin.

Kidman, possibly the palest of the many fair-skinned leading ladies in Hollywood, is well cast as the wan proprietress of this murky mansion. Indeed, the Australian redhead took up acting in high school precisely because it gave her something to do indoors while her friends went to the beach. (An Australian once told me that his native land was settled by the wrong kind of Europeans - Greeks and Sicilians would have been much more comfortable under Australia's burning sun than the English and the Irish.)

Kidman delivers an energetic impression of a woman almost constantly on the edge of hysteria, with her dogmatic brand of Catholicism battling her pagan dread of things that go bump in the night.

The main problem with the script is that it violates the Basic Law of popular movie making: Immediately establish the main character as someone the audience wants to identify with. Then pile on the troubles. Instead, Kidman, for all her beauty, appears from the first frame to be sad, mad, and dangerous to know. I wanted to slip her a bottle of Prozac and get the heck out of there.

Many critics will admire how Amenábar instead slowly builds sympathy for Kidman. One major problem with full-time professional critics, however, is that they see several hundred movies per year, so they get bored out of their gourds with Hollywood's tried and true formulas. Yet, for people who see a more sane number of films annually, there are perfectly good reasons why the standard upfront method of developing empathy for the main character is indeed the standard.

Although the cast is all English-speaking, a nearly all-Spanish crew shot "The Others" in Spain. Yet, the only hint that it's not the English movie that it appears to be is that Amenábar has Kidman repeatedly say she can't understand why her husband went off to fight in WWII. In 1945, that would have been a lot more likely coming from a wife in neutral Spain than in embattled England.

"The Others" delivers a twist ending that might not be terribly original, but I, at least, never saw it coming. Of course, I didn't see much at all.

Rated PG-13, purely for being much too frightening for small children.

 

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