The others is a 2001 ghost movie from Spanish writer/director Alejandro Amenabar. The film is a period piece set in England in the years just after World War II. Spoilers are important for this thing, so if you’re worried about that, then go no further! Otherwise, continue on down to check out the trailer and then our review.
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Jake: The Others. So this has been a long time coming. Jack is on record calling it his favorite horror flick of all time, so here we go. What’s the deal, man? Why this movie?
Jack: So look. I’ve got a confession to make. This might not actually be my favorite horror movie. But like, you’ve admitted From Dusk ‘Till Dawn isn’t necessarily your all time greatest horror pick, so you know, we all make choices. That said though, the movie is fucking great. Truth be told, I’d only seen this a couple of times before this viewing. I was a little afraid to watch it again given the pedestal upon which I’d put this thing.
Jake: Well there is a difference between “favorite” and “best”, amigo. Anyway, how does that pedestal hold up on this viewing?
Jack: Surprisingly well. I was pretty worried that the pacing wouldn’t be great, but this is a pretty strong showing by writer/director Alejandro Amenabar. I don’t want to say this guy came out of nowhere because he had done a bunch of shit before this, including the movie that Vanilla Sky is a remake of, but none of it as widely viewed as this thing. What about you, what’d you know about this thing?
Jake: I actually didn’t know this was a movie by the Abre Los Ojos guy prior to watching for this review (that movie is fucking great). There is a rough 10 year gap in my viewing experiences of this movie and there are a few things that stand out to me on watching it for our review. Number one, and probably most importantly, I forgot how much this thing depends on its ending. And by that, I mean holy fuck, this is slow going for the vast majority of its runtime. That opens up the potential to layer on the atmosphere, but it has to be done pretty flawlessly to hold up.
Jack: Absolutely. To set the stage, the movie is a period piece set in England (technically, the island of Jersey off the coast of France) a few years after the end of WWII. Grace, played by Nicole Kidman, lives in a giant fucking mansion with her two kids who have some medical condition where they can’t be exposed to any light stronger than a candle or they will explode or some shit.
Jake: Yeah, this is an old dark house flick. It works pretty hard to build a character out of the mansion, and the kids’ photosensitivity helps weave some pretty clever elements into the plot. Window drapes have to be closed at all times to keep everyone in the dark, doors must all be locked to avoid any accidents that could lead to one of those little fuckers barging through a door only to be met by death beams melting them like the wicked witch.
Jack: It’s great. What I think works really well about it is that they don’t just confine the movie to the darkness. They use it as a character, but aren’t afraid to shower rooms in fog-blocked sunlight when the glass-jawed kids aren’t around. I feel like a lesser movie would have just left everything dark all the damn time. Looking at you Blair Witch. It does a great job of making the tension feel real.
Jake: I can't disagree, but it's also laid on pretty thick. And with all of the above being in play, it just feels like it tries extra hard with a few elements. The biggest example is Grace’s shoehorned in explanation as to why they don't have electricity or phone (she's just too religious or some shit). Why do we need all of this? It insists upon itself, Jack.
Jack: Oh does it you pretentious fuck? Look, there is some exposition there. But it’s played off pretty well. These servants are brand new to the house, they need to know how everything works. And it actually makes it creepier, as the servants just feel off when we learn that Grace never actually got to send the advertisement for them. By the way, they don’t have electricity because the Germans kept bombing them, so they just learned to live without it, guy. Have some damn respect.
Jake: I said “or some shit”. I covered the bases.... It really becomes a discussion of what is and isn't an effective means of getting the necessary elements of the movie checked off the list. I like the blinds and the locked doors. That all makes sense for both the plot and the twist (more on that later). But the electricity bit does nothing for me. It feels more like something that was thrown in for the purpose of getting a moody shot that they could use for a poster. It's window dressing.
Jack: Maybe man, but I feel like that a really small amount of believable exposition that adds quite a bit to the viewing experience. It worked for me.
Jake: Different strokes, I guess. Let's move to the other bit that stood out to me. I forgot the role of the servants almost completely. They are the engine that makes this whole thing work, and they serve to help to explain the nature of the “intruders” through some pretty sweet expositional dumps. In fact, there are just a lot of expositional dumps in this movie. Servants, religion, war. Some of it works ok but some feels pretty tired when inserted to an already glacially paced film.
Jack: I think you’re just wrong about that buddy. They add a whole air of “what-the-fuck-is-going-on-ness” to the thing. Yes, they’re the ones who try to explain that Grace and the kids have been dead the whole time, but they’re also the ones who make everything seem like there’s something sinister going on by discussing their secretive plans when Grace is out of the room, and by firelight in the gardener’s weird shack.
Jake: I don’t necessarily disagree with that, and I’ll admit it’s really hard to take in their collective role after having already seen the movie because the twist is no longer in question. But I still feel like it slows down an already slow film at times. Regardless, without them, the big reveal couldn’t happen. Want to talk about that, Jack? How it made you feel? Does a single tear roll down your cheek whenever you watch this masterpiece of cinema?
Jack: Fuck you man, the twist is awesome. I don’t know about you, but even on repeated viewings, I kind of forgot that Grace and the kids are the ghosts, and the ‘intruders’ are just the new family moving into the house. It’s built up like fucking crazy, it’s unexpected, and effective as hell. How you can be talking so much shit on this while liking Lake Mungo as much as you do is baffling. The pacing leading up to the reveal isn’t even that slow. It’s just cool haunted house creepiness.
Jake: I'm not going to say it doesn't hit. It's definitely a good twist. When I think about it, it's right there with The Sixth Sense in terms of stringing you along and delivering a blow at the end. Also similar to that flick, most of what you need to tip you off is right there in front of you the whole time. To the movie’s credit, it's well enough hidden and plays with genre conventions effectively enough to really catch you off guard the first time you see it.
Jack: For sure guy. It’s an all-time great twist. And one that’s enjoyable to watch even upon repeated viewings. There’s so much more going on leading up to that too. The not knowing quite what’s up with the servants; the kids’ disease; the ghost shell-shocked dad; there’s a lot of shit.
Jake: This brings me to my main question/point of confusion with the movie. The Dad, Charles. Papa Chuck. What the fuck?
Jack: Well, number 1, he’s played by Chris Eccleston. It’s pretty much just the Doctor come to town. Jokes aside though, it does feel a little shoehorned in. I think I like the effect: finding the lost-at-war father in the fog, and him being so catatonic that he can’t leave the bed, but ultimately I think the whole thing would have been better served if he was edited out. I guess it does add to Nicole Kidman’s character development though.
Jake: I want to call him a red herring, but I can't. I don't really understand the rules involved with the guy. I mean, he “physically” and verbally interacts with the wife and the kids. He bangs Grace. Then he is really distant. Yada yada PTSD. Then he leaves. I don't get it. He’s supposed to be dead too, right? That’s why they can see him? How do ghosts interact with space? How did he get back to the estate in the first place?
Jack: He’s a double ghost buddy. He is to ghosts, as ghosts are to regular people. Come on guy. Much like wumbo, this is first grade stuff.
Jake: It doesn't make sense. For a movie that is undeniably clever in a lot of ways I don't get how, or more importantly why, it allowed rules like that.
Jack: To be honest, I feel like the size of the budget necessitated a love story for the character played by the hugely famous Nicole Kidman. They got lazy and shoved one in. I agree that it’s the weakest aspect of the movie. Fine! You win! Are you happy now, dad?!?!?
Jake: Uhh... Ratings?
Jack: Ratings. Sorry . . . got a little weird. Just . . . ratings.
For 1, think of how Jerry Seinfeld would rate the likelihood of someone leaving an erotic message on his tape and him letting it go:
For 10, think of how Gary Busey would rate the mystery and mirth of hobbits:
Jack: 8 - I love this story. The twist is awesome, sure, but the story is great leading up to that too. The weirdness with the servants gives a feeling of unease, and the stuff with the husband, while maybe shoehorned in, actually does work. Solid stuff.
Jake: 7 - This is a novel story with a genuinely good twist ending that probably caught you off guard the first time you watched it and if it didn't fuck you you lying sack of shit. Of course it did.
WORLD BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 6 - This movie builds tension properly. It makes you feel uncomfortable as it leads up to the twist. And during the twist, you feel frantic and uncertain and scared, just like the characters who are going through the same thing.
Jake: 5 - As I mentioned, I feel like this movie tried a little too hard to create more atmosphere at times and it tore me out quite a bit with the padre Carlos bit. It holds me in just enough but doesn't manage to keep me enthralled despite a pretty good “World” created through the character of the mansion itself.
Jack: 5 - This isn’t the scariest movie in the world. There’s a feeling of unease in the early parts, and then some decent ghost scares in the room with all the furniture under sheets, and the piano room. Apart from that, it’s all atmosphere, but that works.
Jake: 4 - There are kernels in here. I like the way the flick presents the intruders and slowly reveals more about them. It is unsettling and locks in a couple good scares. Overall, it's not blowing your mind on the fear front, though.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 5 - Straight down the middle. Not a lot of effects for the ghosts and supernatural stuff. Most of the effects are to make the period piece feel authentic, and for the most part they do. I have a little problem with the lighting clearly not coming from the candles in some scenes.
Jake: 5 - The sets are pretty good in this thing. The effects are pretty sporadic and I don't love the score, but it's not offensive in any way.
Jack: 7 - So, is this my favorite horror movie of all time? No, probably no. It is a solid film which is just enjoyable as hell to watch though. Check this one out if you haven’t already. It’s just a rock-solid haunted house movie.
Jake: 6 - I'm applying a decent tilt up here because, on first viewing, it does catch you off guard and is a novel and refreshing film when compared to the landscape as a whole. It's horrorness is subtle but it gets the job done and creates a worthy entry to the old dark house format while also defying genre norms. Obviously not as good on repeated viewing.