Others, The: Amenabar’s Supernatural Thriller, Starring Nicole Kidman

Sumptuously crafted, with moody eeriness and almost surreal visual imagery, Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar’s The Others is a terrific supernatural thriller that builds and sustains its considerable suspense, without ever relying on violence or special effects. Cast in a role she was born to play, Nicole Kidman stars as a neurotic single mom, raising two seemingly problematic children while her husband is fighting in WWII.

Though effectively scary, and thematically recalling the blockbuster The Sixth Sense, The Others is an arthouse film, a status recently confirmed by its inclusion in the Venice Film Festival’s main competition. Avid devotees of the occult film are the primary target audience, but, with the right marketing, and strong critical support, Miramax can score decent numbers in major urban centers, with an English-speaking tale that still feels like a foreign film.

Showing a special talent for reality-bending thrillers, Amenabar has earlier made the equally impressive thriller, Open Your Eyes, which was adapted as Cameron Crowe’s new film project, Vanilla Sky, starring Tom Cruise, here credited as exec producer with his partner, Paula Wagner.

Like all good psychological thrillers, The Others deals with the most primal human fears, such as fear of being isolated in a secluded house, fear of somber closets, fear of half-open doors. In this particular case, scripter Amenabar works up a nice twist, building his suspenser not around fear of the dark, a common element of the genre, but rather fear of the light.

Set on the secluded Isle of Jersey in the final days of WWII, tale revolves around Grace, an attractive if severe woman who’s anxiously waiting for her beloved husband to return from the front so that her family can resume a more normal life. A domineering mother, Grace overprotects her two children who, she claims, can never be exposed to any light. The house is always dark, with curtains covering ever inch of the big, menacing windows.

As the story begins, three new servants appear at Grace’s door, as replacement to the former helpers, who had inexplicably disappeared one night. Tension mounts as soon as Grace realizes that the servants have arrived, even though she has not had a chance to mail her request for help to the personal ads section of the local press. Who are they Gradually, it’s revealed that each member of the enigmatic trio is familiar with the house, its surrounding cemetery, and bizarre history that’s recorded in hidden photo albums.

Every once in a while, the children scream out of frightening sights, holding that the house is populated by intruders. When her daughter first reveals that she has been communicating with unexplained apparitions, Grace is reluctant to believe her, because it defies her devout Christian upbringing. Instead of consoling her children, Grace keeps punishing them with the kind of severe intensity that will increase the fears of normal children, let alone problematic ones. All the relationships get even more perplex and complicated, when Grace’s husband (Eccleston) suddenly returns home from the War and proves unable to communicate with his family and servants.

Amenabar, who also composed the ominous score, works well in the Gothic tradition of the haunted house (in this case, a grand Victorian mansion), a staple of horror thrillers that here plays a legit character along with the human ones. As director, he deserves credit forbuilding a subtle psychological terror that’s entirely dependent on the viscerally real performances of his ensemble.

With her classic grace, porcelain-like beauty, sophisticated manner, and forceful stare, Kidman gives a chillingly delectable performance (one of her very best), as a headstrong woman, who’s gradually forced to abandon all her beliefs and fears, entering the dreaded realm of the occult and supernatural.

Equally important as the superlative acting is the mesmerizing lensing of Javier Aguirresarobe, whose camera swoops and glides through dark, echoing halls and foreboding, half-lit rooms. Reflecting the changing tone of the story, the camera quickly turns from calm and peaceful to harried and panicked pacing. At the end, both characters and viewers seem to have lost all sense of time, operating in a truly bizarre twilight zone.

Credits

Running Time: 103 Minutes.

Pro co: Dimension Film Presentation of a Cruise-Wagner Productions/Sogecine/Las Productiones Del Escorpion production
US dist: Miramax
Exec prods: Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Rick Schwartz
Prods: Fernando Bovaira, Jose Luis Cuerda, Summin Park
Screenplay: Amenabar
Cinematographer: Javier Aguirresarobe
Production design: Benjamin Fernandez
Music: Amenabar

Cast

Nicole Kidman
Fionnula Flanagan
Christopher Eccleston
Alakina Mann
James Bentley
Eric Sykes
Elaine Cassidy