One film genre that has changed a lot over the years is the haunted house thriller. Back in 1944 The Uninvited staring Ray Milland took on this type of film with little in the way of special effects and strong on the acting. Now, with the advent of computer generated graphics and special effects the moviemakers seem to feel obligated to cram effects into a film, often to the determent of the story. One of the more recent forays into this genre is The Others. The story follows a young widow Grace (Nicole Kidman) whose two children have an extreme sensitivity to light. As such they live in the dark, a world lit only by a few oil lamps. The older sister Anne (Alakina Mann) loves to terrorize her younger brother Nicholas (James Bentley). Having an older sister myself I see this as a realistic portrayal of the sibling relationship. Anne is always talking about a little boy and his family that she sees about the house. Of course, no one believes her until some strange things start happening. The meager household staff of three is headed by the housekeeper Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) who is assisted by a darkly somber groundskeeper and a mute maid. As the story unfolds it appears that this trio has an agenda of their own. Grace is an overly religious woman who uses bible lessons to punish her children. When Anne relates to her mother about the people she sees the results is not a maternal concern but a frenzy of prayer imposed upon the child. Too bad this story takes place just after World War II; this household would be great on Jerry Springer. The mother enforces unusual rules for her household. After a person passes through a door it must be shut and locked before another door can be opened. The heavy drapes are closed during the day and especially before one of the children can enter the room. Mrs. Mills goes along with the requests but there appears to be doubts in her mind. Soon, the strangeness of the house overwhelms the bizarre affectations of the inhabitants. Drapes appear to open themselves. Footsteps are heard running around the house in seemingly empty rooms. Anne insists that they belong to the mysterious boy and his family. While there is a nice little novel plot twist at the very end the story seems to drift altogether too much. It lacks the focus required to make this type of film taut and suspenseful. These qualities are required in this genre but just miss the mark here.
The acting in this film is not up to the standards that the cast is capable of presenting. Kidman comes off as an overbearing, overly religious mother. It would have been a lot better for the audience if they softened her up more, permitting the audience a greater degree of identification with her character. I really didnt find myself caring too much about Grace. Perhaps what made matters worse is the film Moulin Rouge was released about the same time affording us the opportunity to compare Kidmans lackluster performance here with the energetic role she mastered in Moulin. Flanagan did bring her formidable skills to play as the housekeeper. I have enjoyed her work since I was in college and saw her performance live in the Plough and the Stars in the famed Brooklyn Academy. Here she underplays the role a bit, which was perfect considering the mood and setting. Young Ms Mann gives the real show stealing performance. She is good here, far better than her years would lead you to believe. She balances the terrorizing of her younger brother (a natural occurrence) with the certainty that others are inhabiting their house. I look forward to see how her career progresses. Unfortunately, the cast did not breath life into this story.
This film is the freshman English effort of director Alejandro Amenabar. He has the stylistic qualities down very well but the film seems to lack a bit of focus. Amenabar creates a moody atmosphere of grays and shadows making full use of the plot point of keeping the children out of direct light. The setting of a gothic mansion has been done a bit too often for this type of film to really grab the interest of the viewers. The pacing also could have used some better editing. When a movie of this genre depends more on expository dialogue than special affects, a refreshing change, the cutting has to be at a quicker pace than normal to help drive the film. Instead there were places where things just ground almost to a halt. As presented this film is more an exploration of tone and mood than plot. I do have to admit that the ending offered a nice twist, one I didnt see coming until almost the moment it was revealed.
The two-disc set is well made. The audio is such that all the speakers will get a good chance to shine. The rear speakers provide a nice touch of sounds and voices swirling around your living room. Great care was paid to making sure the positioning of the sound was correct. The video was free of defect with a color palate that appeared a little muted. The second disc presents a number of extras. There is a behind the scenes look at the making of the film as well as a featurette focusing on the director. Add to this a how to for the special effects and a look at the disease the children supposedly had, Xeroderma Pigmentosum. The extras are nice but greater concern to a better film would have been better. In summary the movie is a thriller that does not resort to gallons of fake blood and it is beautifully framed and shot but it lacks the drive needed to truly set it apart from the others in the genre.