My impression was actually that the critical world was united on this movie. I now learn, thankfully, that there are a fair number of us out there who didn’t think this movie delivered.
‘The Others’ is a ghost story, and unfortunately for me, one too many people told me it was, ‘A ghost story like no other,’ and that I would, ‘never guess the ending’. This is unfortunate, because when the thousandth person has told you that the ending is the ‘last thing you’d ever guess’, the last thing you would ever guess becomes the first thing you guess. Perhaps because I was so prepared, everything that happened in the movie solidified my belief that I had correctly guessed the ‘surprise ending’ (and I had).
Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) lives in a stately, manor home with her two children. Her children (and Grace as well) live a very secluded, bizarre life. Her daughter Anne (Alakina Mann), and son Nicholas (James Bentley), are extremely sensitive to light, so much so that they have an allergic reaction to it, and being exposed to very bright light could even kill them. Because of this condition, Grace runs her house according to some strange rules. The house is naturally always very dark, and each door must be locked before the next door is opened. Thus, we have a fantastic setting for a ghost story. Hooray for us. This, I suppose, will start a new tradition where we get such things as: ‘my children are allergic to not having lots of cleavers and axes around them at all times’, ‘my children have a psychological aversion to seeing people’s faces, and everyone must wear masks when around them,’ and the finale of the trilogy wherein the abovementioned kids all get together and go to a special summer camp adapted especially to suit their needs.
Some strangers soon arrive at the house, and Grace assumes they are responding to an add she placed for some help around the house. Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flannagan - ‘Waking Ned Devine’) is the housekeeper, and the only one of the three to do much talking. She comes with a youngish girl who will help her in the house, (and she can’t talk so no fault there) as well as old Mr. Tuttle, who does the gardening.
Things are already rather creepy in the house, and we are given a few hints to the ‘strange things’ that happen here. The daughter makes outlandish claims, and brings up the time when their mother once went crazy. Now that the help has moved in, things get even more strange. We hear voices, bumps, and all manner of spookables, and the daughter continues with her claims that she has seen a young boy, as well as ‘Others’, in the house.
That’s about all I can give you, and all you need, of the plot. We simply move around from one thump to the next, and see what happens.
It seems that perhaps there could be a theory here that I might enjoy, but all this movie could get out of me was boredom.
It’s pretty clear that director Alejandro Amenabar knows how to create mood, and one might even say that he knows something about keeping people on the edge of their seat. He is, if nothing else, a very good storyteller in a sense. What remains to be seen is whether or not he knows how to pick a story worth telling.
The truth is, there simply isn’t any meat here, and we went into the thing expecting it to be mostly meat. In a day and age where movies are notorious for giving us style over substance, or perhaps more accurately, explosions, car chases, and huge visuals over an interesting plot, we were led to understand that this was a movie that didn’t resort to ‘theatrics’ for their own sake, and had something to tell us. Instead, this is a movie that simply exchanges one sort of style over substance for another, and attempts to convince us that this set of ‘theatrics’ is the better one.
It is hard to avoid comparing this movie to ‘The Sixth Sense’, and however they may be compared in other ways, the bottom line difference is that one can watch ‘The Sixth Sense’ again. There is something there to watch even if one knows the ‘surprise ending’. I can’t even remotely imagine suffering through ‘The Others’ once we ‘get it’.
But even beyond this, it is hard to imagine being scared during this movie, even if you don’t know the ‘surprise’. How can I be scared, I had to ask myself, that something might happen to this lady, when I so want something to happen to her? Grace, and even her daughter, beg for you to hate them. I don’t know about others, but it worked for me. Instead of trying to imagine what sort of things might be about to happen, and what sort of ghosts or creatures might pop out and attack Grace (which, I assume, is what I was supposed to do), I was busy envisioning far worse things that I hoped would happen to her. And, the movie is plenty long enough (or seems so) that we have ample time to get frustrated with even this entertainment we invent for ourselves, and finally I was only rolling my eyes and muttering, ‘Something please come and kill this nutjob... and get the girl too.’ (Unfortunately I couldn’t even find solace there, as I knew it wouldn’t...hope I didn’t spoil anything for you)
Is ‘The Others’ a great telling of a story. It actually is. There is a lot of attention to detail, that really sets a great mood. The use of dark (and light) is excellent, the setting of the ‘stage’ with the rules of the house and other elements I won’t give away is great, and even the fact that most everyone whispers most of the time for no apparent reason is an interesting idea. Where we fall flat, and do so pretty quickly, is that the mood doesn’t go anywhere. This is a movie which actually has no plot. From reading my reviews, one might be aware that I am a fan of movies which are not plot driven, and thus focus more on the characters. This movie, on the other hand, literally has no plot. The sum total of the story could be told in one, rather short, sentence. It is a story which has a ‘surprise ending’ and nothing else. It is basically a two-line joke with a clever punchline that is made feature-length not by adding more information before the punchline, but by saying the first line over and over again.
There is (I suppose) some good acting here to see as well. The best, in my opinion, is by Flannagan. Kidman manages pretty well, but I'm not sure I'm convinced that she is really acting here at all. I have my suspicions that this might just be her being her.
My recommendation. If you insist on watching it, watch it in the dark, try to allow yourself to be scared, and don’t think too much. You might get something out of it. My real recommendation. Just avoid it.