Are there things that are more scary than ghosts? Are close encounters with the other side, as it were, the ultimate in terror? Writer/director Alejandro Amenabar does a neat job of answering that question with THE OTHERS, a ghost story where neither good nor evil should be taken for granted.
The story takes place entirely in a spooky old mansion on the Isle of Jersey. The year is 1945 and Grace, played by a deliciously high-strung and neurotic Nicole Kidman, copes with disappearing servants, a husband lost in the war, and two small children for whom sunlight is the kiss of death. In her first appearance on screen, she is shrieking herself awake after a bad dream. Remember that image. Like everything else in this elegantly crafted, chillingly effective tale, it is significant. Nothing in the writing or directing is left to chance. The dialogue ripples with double and sometimes triple meanings. Even the opening montage, wherein Grace in a voiceover tells the story of creation to her young son and daughter, also tells the story of the film with ironically sentimental drawings, yet nothing is given away with the cleverly chosen clues.
Into Graces life of shuttered rooms come three servants, mothery Finnula Flannagan, timid and mute Elaine Cassidy and avuncular Eric Sykes, mysteriously appearing from the ever-present fog that surrounds the house. Are they there to help or do they have another agenda? Are the stories of a mysterious little boy that only Grace’s daughter can see the result of an overactive, malicious imagination or of a haunting? Is Grace, isolated and burdened with troubles quietly going mad? Quiet is the key in this film that loves silence. A half-heard whisper in it can be as unnerving as a shriek and twice as creepy.
Amenabar does several remarkable things, not the least of which is how he presents Grace. She is always the same, rigid but caring, stern but uncertain, religious, but with a faith that admits four Hells and precious little in the way of Heaven. Still, as the story unfolds with all its clever twists and turns, Amenebar skillfully manipulates the audience in its attitude towards her, one moment sympathetic, the next wary, the next steeled against her and then back again.
He also creates a mood of growing terror without high-end special effects. In fact, the most impressive may be the creation of the fog that surrounds the house whose location was sunny Spain. And what is the lesson here? Once again, a good story, well-told with excellent acting is all you need. Take that EVOLUTION, JURASSIC PARK III and THE PHANTOM MENACE.