Suspense stories that surpass the typical crime thriller model of picking the most improbable ending to elicit surprise are few and far between. Those transcending that mold into excellence usually have trick endings that were staring at you point blank in the face throughout the whole movie, yet are only plainly visible in hindsight. The Others is one such masterful story with a surprise ending with the ability to amaze even those jaded in the post-Sixth Sense era--because just when you think the movie has prematurely tipped its hand and you can guess the spectacular "should have saw it coming" conclusion, you're dealt a second twist more clever than the first.
Set in the 1945 Channel Islands, The Others is a classic tale of the supernatural focusing on an old mansion and its occupants. Grace (Nicole Kidman), the lady of the house, is raising her son and daughter alone, as her husband has gone off to war. Convinced that her children have a severe allergy to sunlight, she keeps them locked in the house in perpetual darkness, with the drapes opened only at night. This stately mother with a potentially vicious temper is also a major control freak, insisting that for every door opened, another one must be locked. She also hammers religion and academics into her kids, and punishes them on a seemingly regular basis.
This world of strict order is soon thrown into chaos when it becomes apparent that there are ghostly intruders in the house: Grace constantly hears unexplained noises, and her daughter insists she keeps seeing a couple, an old woman, and a young boy named Victor. The bizarre manifestations get stronger throughout the movie, building to the story's intriguing climax. A scene with the old woman speaking in the voice of Grace's daughter is particularly unnerving, and builds with thick suspense.
Except for some music tricks meant to blatantly exploit the fear of jittery audience members, The Others takes a wonderfully understated approach to its horror: the sound of a child crying in the distance, for example, has a more haunting impact than a bunch of people screaming into the camera, and footsteps from the attic prove more intimidating than a slasher lunging at you. The movie has a very haunted feel about it, what with the vast emptiness of the house, the constant use of candles to light scenes, and the dull, stone-like colors that dominate the screen.
Nicole Kidman is excellent as an obsessive mother who is not completely right in the head. Her performance is great, and as a bonus, she's totally hot. To be sure, Kidman always has on-screen sex appeal; but it's different in The Others. Here, she's got that prim-and-proper, sexually repressed librarian thing going on--the hot bookish chick that you know just needs it bad. She's the hot librarian, hot mom, hot teacher, and Catholic schoolgirl archetypal fantasies all rolled into one. And it's painfully obvious she's in desperate need of some good lovin'...but I digress...
(Back to the movie review...)
Alakina Mann and James Bentley have good sibling chemistry as Grace's children, Anne and Nicholas. They torment each other as young brothers and sisters are apt to do, and share a strange love/fear relationship with their mother. The three house servants--a nanny, a gardener, and a mysteriously mute young woman--balance out the cast and the eerie setting.
The only truly weak character and plot point is the brief introduction of the father. It's an unnecessary subplot that adds virtually nothing to the movie, even from the hindsight perspective of knowing the movie's twist ending. Any way you cut it, he only introduces elements we already knew before his arrival. Audiences would have done just as well without him, and considering that he leaves as abruptly as he came, the whole thing seems like a superfluous sidetrack. This wasted time is made more obvious because of the movie's generally slow pace.
But besides some minor shortcomings, The Others is hands down one of the best supernatural thrillers out there. It's an instant classic of the genre, with a hot Nicole Kidman to boot. And best of all, it boasts a feature that most horror films never achieve: it gets more disturbing the more the story sinks in, giving it a haunting immortality that seems twisted even after the movie fades to black. And it does this in spite of the supernatural twist, demonstrating how true, grisly horror can be such an everyday thing.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)