director/script/music : Alejandro Amenabar
producers include : Tom Cruise
cinematography : Javier Aguirresarobe
editing : Nacho Ruiz Capillas
lead actors : Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes, Christopher Eccleston
Ghostly chiller The Others is something of a phantom itself, a wispy visitor from a bygone era. It’s the kind of classy supernatural drama the BBC used to show in the 70s, late in the evening during the Christmas holidays. More specifically, it’s also a deliberate tribute to The Innocents, the 1961 adaptation of Henry James’ Turn of the Screw: both feature a pair of creepy children being looked after by a chilly blonde (Deborah Kerr back then, Kidman now) in an isolated mansion which seems to be haunted.
But while The Innocents maintained its careful, Jamesian ambiguity right to the very end – the film, like the book, works just the same whether the phantoms are real or only in the mind of Kerr’s nervy governess – The Others is more of a skilfully-constructed puzzle, to which there is one definite answer. Many viewers will work this out for themselves long before Almenabar ‘reveals’ his hand, and the film’s unexpected smash status in the US can be explained by the fact that it’s “rigged” to encourage a second viewing, in which the early clues become more apparent.
While there’s something inherently cheap and unsatisfactory about films and stories which pivot on one spectacular twist, The Others has rather more substance than most. There may not be anything cutting-edge about Almenabar’s directorial approach, but this material suits his careful, measured style – the skilful manipulation of sound and silence, light and dark. It’s notable that he employs no special effects whatsoever, while his script’s running subtext of Catholic theology is a welcome, intriguingly exotic addition to the standard ghost-story formula. He crafts an old-school star vehicle for Kidman, shot and lit to look eerily like Catherine Deneuve, but, more unexpectedly, it’s also a showcase for the unsuspected “proper acting” skills of octogenarian TV comic Sykes.
18th October, 2001
(seen Oct-5-01, UGC Parrs Wood, Manchester)
by Neil Young
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