Tuesday, January 18

The Others at 20: the haunted house movie with a twist we all saw coming | Nicole Kidman


When Spanish director Alejandro Amenábar made The Others, his first English-language film, 20 years ago, American horror films were in a state of limbo. The wave of neo-slashers caused by Wes Craven’s Scream had already run its course and it would still be a couple of years before other trends took hold, such as the streak of Japanese horror remakes such as The Ring or the extreme cinema of Saw and Hostel. It seemed to reflect the increasingly dark post-9/11 reality that other mainstream movies were carefully avoiding. There was no better time for an old-fashioned haunted house movie, which had always thrived in a state of limbo, where the living and the dead share the same space, and audiences can’t always tell which is which.

In truth, The Others seems like a direct reaction to two 1999 films: The Sixth Sense, M Night Shyamalan’s unusually silent and twisted trailer about a boy who sees dead people, and The Haunting, a truly disgusting attempt at a psychological thriller. classic. the blockbuster treatment. Amenábar’s response was to issue a corrective to the remake of The Haunting by returning to the suggestive fundamentals of the 1963 version while replicating the nested surprises of Shyamalan’s film, along with the dynamics of a stressed single mother and children communing with the dead. . He could be accused of a blatant commercial calculus if it weren’t for the fact that throwback movies like The Others weren’t being made at all.

Amenábar’s other main source here is 1961’s The Innocents, an adaptation of Henry James’s novel The Turn of the Screw, about a governess on a large estate caring for two children she believes to be possessed. Nicole Kidman’s impeccably sculpted hairstyle alone looks like a nod to Deborah Kerr’s in the previous film, though Amenábar has neutralized the sexual undercurrents that gave The Innocents an added charge. In fact, the big problem with The Others, an otherwise attractive piece of horror craftsmanship, is that it never seems more substantial than mere imitation, like an apprentice magician showing off all of the master’s old tricks.

Still, the stunts remain dazzling, starting with the mist-drowned surroundings of a Jersey estate, the largest of the Channel Islands, yet strikingly secluded. Despite the fact that it is the year 1945 and the Second World War is over, there is an unsettling feeling that protecting a conflict that ravaged Britain and France has also severed ties with humanity itself. As the film begins, Grace (Kidman) has not heard any news about her husband Charles, who has not returned from the war, and her anxiety takes over her children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), who both they seem a little fearful of her. When a trio of servants show up unexpectedly to help manage the property and care for the children, Grace tells their leader, Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) that they lost power during the war and never bothered to restore it. Children are sensitive to light, so flashlights suit them well.

They are also well suited to Amenábar, as part of his plan to design a state of permanent darkness or at night on the farm, regardless of the actual time of day. Sunlight doesn’t seem to penetrate Jersey anyway, but Grace emphasizes that all the curtains remain drawn over the windows and, for added protection, that all 50 doors to the house remain closed and locked by a jingle of 15 keys. Despite these precautions, Anne and Nicholas complain about “intruders,” including a scary little boy named Victor, and the new house staff seem terribly suspicious. For one thing, they have responded to a newspaper post that has not yet been mailed.

From a plot point of view, Amenábar’s greatest triumph is making the twist so obvious to audiences that they probably won’t see the real twist that comes in the final moments. Amenábar’s ease with multi-layered realities was evident in his previous Spanish-language film Abre los ojos (Abre los ojos), which Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise had Americanized as Vanilla Sky for later in the same year. But it’s the simplicity of The Others that remains its greatest asset: With this funereal atmosphere in place, Amenábar can uncork haunted house favorites like creaking floorboards, slow-opening doors, game of lamp-lit shadows and the echoing groans of the undead.

NICOLE KIDMAN, THE OTHERS, 2001RYM7E4 NICOLE KIDMAN, THE OTHERS, 2001
Photograph: Allstar Picture Library Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

Although The Others might be compared to the historical horror of Guillermo del Toro’s films like The Devil’s Spine and Pan’s Labyrinth, both set around the Spanish Civil War, Amenábar doesn’t work as hard to connect the close-up clashes with the real. horrors of the second world war. Even when the fate of Grace’s husband is finally revealed, the trauma that could come with him is nothing compared to the immediate circumstances that have his wife and children completely scared. Grace has discovered a portrait book filled with grim pictures of dead people, and her daughter has been briefly possessed by the face of a parched old woman. They have enough on their plate.

The true legacy of The Others is confirmation that the old ways still work. There are only a couple of frank shocks in the movie, but Amenábar has the patience and confidence to know that he can stingily analyze them as long as he can keep the mood. As much as the Scream cycle rewarded the self-awareness of a horror audience, The Others proved that the same ploys that scared people 40 years earlier could still work on them now. We will always be afraid of the unknown. We will always be afraid of the dark. In the right hands, our mind is a house that is easily and eternally haunted.


www.theguardian.com

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