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Friday, August 3, 2012

Day 216: The Others

The Others
What, the lamp doesn't get top billing?

Can a movie still be entertaining when you know the surprise ending? People are connected now more than ever thanks to smartphones, lightning-fast internet, and social media. Nowadays, it's almost impossible not to have at least parts of movies spoiled for you by a status warning free of spoiler alerts or references in other media. I love going to the theater to watch a movie, but I hate going to the theater because of the people. For whatever reason, there are tons of people who think they're at home because they don't shut up. I have specific examples, like when I saw Gran Torino in the theater and the old bat behind me felt the need to croak “Larry had diarrhea last night!” right before the lights went down. When I saw the Star Trek remake, the woman in front of me kept laughing at inappropriate moments. Because going to theaters is so painful, I wait a few weeks to catch a movie, hoping the crowds have thinned. This wait is dangerous because a movie can be spoiled in that time. If a movie is good enough, does it matter if you know the ending?

The Others is 2001 horror movie starring Nicole Kidman (Far And Away, Cold Mountain) as Grace Stewart. Grace lives with her two small children, Anne and Nicholas, in a large, but remote country house island of Jersey in the 1940's. Three servants arrive at the house, Mrs. Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan, Brotherhood, Lost), Mr. Tuttle (Edmund Sykes, Theatre of Blood, The Big Freeze), and a young mute girl named Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). Mrs. Mills is tasked with taking care of the children who suffer from photosensitivity and must remain in darkness at all times. Grace instructs Mrs. Mills and Lydia to close and lock all doors when leaving a room. After their arrival, strange events occur in the house such as bizarre noises and locked doors opening. Anne says it is the ghost of a boy named Victor and after scaring Nicholas, Grace forces Anne to read the Bible for three days. Anne draws a picture of a man, woman, Victor and an old woman, all of whom she claims to have seen in the house. Grace tries to hunt down the intruders, but finds no one. Convinced that something unholy is in the house, Grace asks Mr. Tuttle to search for a cemetery that may be on the grounds. When she leaves, Mr. Tuttle covers up a headstone with leaves. Grace goes to get the priest but on her way, she discovers her husband Charles (Christopher Eccleston, Gone in 60 Seconds, 28 Days Later) has returned from the war. He is distant and in shock from the war. The next day when Grace is preparing Anne's communion dress, she finds her daughter has been replaced by an old woman. She violently shakes and hits the old woman, only to discover that she has been hitting her daughter. Charles leaves soon after, apparently unable to acclimate to the life he once lived. Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tuttle, and Lydia have cryptic conversations about Grace, making ominous comments about the living and the dead. Who are the intruders and what do the servants want from Grace and her children?

Haunt this!

I'm not sure exactly when or where I heard about the surprise ending, but it has been years and I decided to watch the movie anyway. It's no longer a surprise thanks to countless parodies. Even the DVD box touts the surprise ending. Despite knowing how things were going to turn out, the movie is still very enjoyable. Writer/director Alejandro Amenabar crafts an atmosphere throughout the movie that is both scary and sad. There are some jolts and general scares, but the fear in the movie comes from the anticipation of the unknown. We know something is going to happen, it is just a matter of where, when, and how. The sets look great along with the style of clothing for the time period. The story itself is good with proper pacing. There are hints of foreshadow, but not as much as you'd expect for a movie with a big surprise ending. I give credit to Amenabar for being able to hold off on giving too many hints. Of course, that does put in to question his storytelling ability. Occasionally, the movie does put more emphasis on style than substance, wandering away from the meat of the story.

What makes the movie work is the performances of the actors. Nicole Kidman is great as Grace with her ability to be both strong and fragile. We believe that she is a normal mother trying to keep her family together and her faith intact. Fionnula Flanagan is very good as well. She is motherly and calm with the children, but in other scenes she portrays herself as having a hidden agenda. A certain look from her or the tone of her voice works wonders for setting the mood of the entire movie. The children are thankfully not unbearably annoying. Horror movies love to make kids either incredibly annoying or incredibly stupid. The Others managed to avoid this trap and just make the children “normal”. The movie is a bit slow in parts, taking it's time getting to the point. There are a few scenes of excitement, but to call them “action” wouldn't be correct. There is not blood or real violence to speak of as this movie is geared towards a much wider audience than what the hardcore horror fan is used to seeing.

This is her happy face. Or sad face. It's hard to tell.

Despite knowing the end of the movie, I still enjoyed The Others. The Others is a creative psychological horror movie with good direction and great acting. Nicole Kidman and Fionnula Flanagan make the movie work and Alejandro Amenabar creates a dark atmosphere. The story is good, but sometimes goes off course to favor film making over storytelling. There are a few creepy scenes, but there isn't much action to speak of. It is clever and creative with a good twist that is not ruined by earlier events in the movie. If you like psychological horror, you'll enjoy The Others.


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