The Others, is a 2001 film written and directed by Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenabar. It stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Stewart, a woman living in a dreary and isolated mansion with her two children just after World War II. The children, Anne and Nicholas, have a rare genetic disorder that makes them dangerously sensitive to the light, so the house is always dark. The family exists, more or less happily, in the house which is governed by a set of religiously strict rules, designed to protect the children. However when new servants arrive to replace the ones who have mysteriously disappeared, strange things begin to happen. Eventually, despite her staunch Catholicism, Grace becomes convinced that her house is haunted.
The filmmaker wanted to create a ghost story driven by atmosphere and mood, and not by gore, special effects and jump scares. He was also, reportedly, a big fan of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense and wanted a twist ending. He accomplished all these goals, but in the process, I think, he proved that just by making a different ghost story, he didn’t necessarily make a better one.
By American standards, this film was slow. I say “American standards” because I think it did very well in the rest of the world. It did okay in the U.S., but that may have been mostly the result of the relatively new “twist ending” (The Sixth Sense had been released only two years earlier).
As far as my personal standards go, I found The Others to be slow too. It had great atmosphere, and the dark, depressing mood was effectively maintained throughout. I thought the setting (an isolated mansion somewhere in the U. K.), and the time period (the immediate aftermath of World War II) both combined to reinforce the gloomy feeling. Nicole Kidman was great, as always, and we even got to see a former Dr. Who, Christopher Eccleston, for a few moments.
I saw it when it first came out, and I have to admit, I missed a lot of the clues to the twist ending the first time (although I did get a feeling of something being not quite right after a while). Seeing it a second time it was easier to spot the clues. This was mostly because the film was so slow there was never any sense of being swept away by the action, or the story. And that’s the main problem with slow, atmospheric movies with twist endings – once you’ve seen it, it’s not really possible, or desirable, to see it again. Its whole essence is tied up in the surprise at the end, unfortunately.
Despite that, The Others pretty much single-handedly turned all our usual “haunted house” expectations on their heads. It was fresh and a little chilling to see a haunting from the ghosts’ perspective, even if the ghosts didn’t know they were ghosts until the very end. It also made us aware that behind every “exciting” ghost story there is a tragedy lurking in the background. In this case, Grace, driven mad by despair at the loss of her husband in the war, smothered her two children and then shot herself to death.