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With: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Eric Sykes, Elaine Cassidy, James Bentley
Written by: Alejandro Amenabar
Directed by: Alejandro Amenabar
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements and frightening moments
Running Time: 104
Date: 08/02/2001

The Others (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

When the Spirit Moves You

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

All ghost stories from now through the next several years will have to take the yardstick test against The Sixth Sense, which is too bad. Because even though Alejandro Amenabar's new film The Others comes up just a fraction of an inch short, it still emerges as a wonderful ghost story all of its own.

Like The Sixth Sense, The Others comes complete with a delightful ending that I did not see coming, so I'll be careful not to reveal anything here. Nicole Kidman stars as Grace, a 1940s housewife living in a huge, lovely, spooky European mansion. Her husband is away at war, and has presumably been killed. Grace's children, Nicholas (James Bentley) and Anne (Alakina Mann), have unfortunately developed a serious photosensitive condition and cannot be exposed to any light stronger than a candle. Hence, she establishes a rule that no door may be opened until the one before it has been closed and locked.

Three new servants arrive at Grace's door and she puts them to work in this odd place. Fionnula Flanagan (Waking Ned Devine) plays Mrs. Mills, Eric Sykes plays Charles, and Elaine Cassidy plays the mute Lydia. These three lurk about the place, leading us to believe they're up to something strange. Grace finds a book full of pictures of dead people, and young Anne begins seeing and hearing ghostly evidence of a young boy and an old woman about the house.

Kidman's character is not called Grace for nothing. The actress once again overshadows her jaw-dropping beauty with pure talent and presence. She approaches Grace from a place of inner pain, looking harried and exhausted underneath her perfect exterior. It's a wonderful performance, and belongs in a special place with her work in To Die For, The Portrait of a Lady, Eyes Wide Shut, and Moulin Rouge. (Not bad for someone whose Hollywood debut came in Days of Thunder.)

The young director Amenabar seems completely in command of his material, unlike the scores of eager Hitchcock clones out there. Amenabar's last film, the great suspense sci-fi thriller Open Your Eyes (starring Penelope Cruz) barely got released, but achieved enthusiastic response from everyone who saw it. For The Others, he approaches the look of the house with quiet control, similar to Kubrick's The Shining, using the squareness of the hallways and rooms, plus the lack of light, for maximum terror. The simple device of keeping the rooms dark and locked for the children's survival turns out to be a great logical scare tactic.

Unlike Jack Nicholson in The Shining, however, Amenabar never loses his cool. He throws a few bones to keep us slightly off balance and lead us away from the truth, but he never dive-bombs into pure madness or bloodshed. In retrospect, a few of these red herrings seem out of place, but they do not diminish the overall effect.

Amenabar scares us often enough to keep us interested, but not so often that we get desensitized. While most horror movies aim for the stomach, The Others is made to tingle the spine.

Miramax/Dimension's great-looking two-disc DVD set could easily have fit on one disc. The skimpy extras contain a few brief featurettes, stills and trailers, but no commentary track (though he speaks it well, English is not Amenabar's first language).

In 2011, Lionsgate released a nice Blu-Ray edition, with the same extras.

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