The Others Review

Nicole Kidman has given two great performances in one year, and yet these were featured in films at opposite ends of the spectrum. Although the Australian actress is tipped to win Best Actress at the Oscars for Moulin Rouge!, Kidman is arguably better in The Others, an intense supernatural thriller from the emerging Spanish genius Alejandro Amenábar. Amenábar secured the financing for The Others from Tom Cruise's production company, on the understanding that Amenábar would let Cruise remake his 1997 psychodrama Abre los ojos into an English language remake called Vanilla Sky.

Set in 1945, The Others tells of a young woman named Grace (Nicole Kidman) who has retired/confined herself and her two young children to live in a Jersey mansion whilst waiting/hoping for her husband to return from fighting the war. The huge, looming mansion is too much to handle for a temporarily single mother, and so some servants are hired - Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan) the nanny, Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes in an odd yet inspired casting choice) the gardener and Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), a mute maid. Upon arrival at the mansion, the servants are greeted with some bizarre rule by Grace, and find the young mother to be highly neurotic. Grace states that each of the 50 or so doors that are contained within the house must be locked before another can be opened. The large looming curtains must always be drawn when the children are awake. Grace explains that this is necessary because Anne and Nicholas, her two children, are so allergic to the sunlight that horrible spores surface on their skin and they might die if exposed to it. The servants soon settle in and learn to live with the highly-strung Grace and her strange rules, although it soon becomes apparent to Grace that there are 'others' in the house, and the servants find this hard to believe, even though the evidence does suggest something of supernatural origins.

As opposed to Moulin Rouge!, which was a hi-camp musical littered with hundreds of extras in colourful locations, combined with some of the most frenetic editing and direction ever to grace cinema, The Others is almost the exact opposite, and this is not purely because of differing genres. The film primarily contains six characters, who mostly occupy the same space and location, and the narrative is based on much more of a controlled pacing. This isn't your typical modern shocker, as it is completely devoid of slasher killings spread out equally over the film's running time, and doesn't utilise fantastic CGI effects that look great now and yet dated in a year's time. The fear that is generated in The Others, is purely psychological.

The problem with films such as The Others, alongside films such as Fight Club, The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects, is that audience, through word-of-mouth gossip, become too preoccupied with identifying the film's 'twist' conclusion. They therefore spend the whole of the film's duration trying to second-guess the plot elements. Many audience members criticised The Others for having a conclusion that was too obvious and was also derivative of similar horror titles. Criticising The Others for its ending is being unfair to its other acts, as the film is tremendous in its slow, gradual build-up of tension, and is gripping to witness even if one is aware of the ending. Watching The Others for a second time, it is far easier to notice just how much of a tremendous job writer/director Alejandro Amenábar produced when it came to deftly balancing all of the plot elements together into a cohesive whole. You realise that every single throwaway comment and directorial device is included in the film for a reason, and appreciating this factor is the key to appreciating the film. What's also so refreshing about The Others, is that is chooses to be banded with films such as The Haunting or Repulsion as opposed to films such as Friday The 13th or A Nightmare On Elm Street. This is a horror film for adults, and not for teenagers looking for mindless scares. Things go 'bump' upstairs rather than monsters jumping through walls, and voices whisper softly in every angle as opposed to demonic screams.

Performance wise, the cast are magnificent. Nicole Kidman as Grace has that beautiful look that can turn almost psychotic in an instant, and she perfectly renders Grace a caring and yet ultimately neurotic woman unable to cope with her confines. Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes and Elaine Cassidy are all splendid as the three house-servants Mrs. Mills, Mr. Tutill and Lydia, who give that delicate emotional balance between sanity and untrustworthiness. However, the two finest performances are Alakina Mann and James Bentley as Grace's children Anne and Nicholas. The two youngsters show exceptional maturity and quality in their acting, and the film arguably hinges upon their performances, since we the audience identify most with these two.

With a British and Australian cast, The Others has a mostly Spanish crew. Director of Photography Javier Aguirresarobe gives the film a foggy pale-green shading, as if the characters have been entirely surrounded in their murky environment. The editing by Nacho Ruiz Capillas starts off slow, and gradually picks up to a speedier pace, in turn raising the heartbeats of the audience. The production design by Benjamín Fernández is also very good, managing to give a spooky presence to the very limited range of locations. The main star of the production side of the film is of course Alejandro Amenábar, who shows that M. Night Shyamalan has at least a worthy equal to battle with in the Hollywood warzone of psychological/supernatural thrillers.

The Others is a taut horror-thriller that is both immensely satisfying as a viewing experience and technically excellent. Although it has a good sense of mainstream appeal, it may be inaccurately accused of being 'slow' by those used to cut-and-paste horrors, even so, it’s a must-see for the DVD consumers of 2002. The Others may have relied upon Hollywood financing, but what is so promising about it is the fact that it had almost no reliance on Hollywood talent.

Presented in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 NTSC, the picture quality is lousy at best. Although the print source for the transfer seems to be very acceptable, the number of digital artefacts that appear on the screen for even a single frame are so distracting that it spoils the enjoyment. In some places, the daylight sequences shift brightness and contrast to such an extent because of the apparent artefacts that it appears as if the scene flickers between a dark and light tone. Maybe we're too used to flawless anamorphic transfers, as this version appears dreadful in comparison. If you are bothered by poor transfers, then please wait for the two-disc Region 1 version to come out. At least the chinese subtitle are easy to remove.

And now for the good part. The sound mixes provided on this Region 3 version are splendid, and make up for the terrible picture quality. First, we have a DTS mix, that is quiet on occasions but immensely atmospheric when it has a chance to shine. Some of the tenser moments and more supernatural moments benefit greatly from the DTS mix, and the low bass rumblings are more vivid than ever. The sequence where overbearingly heavy footsteps can be heard above Grace is so authentic audibly that you almost feel inclined to look above you. The 5.1 mix is also very good, and has little in terms of inferior sound compared to the DTS mix.

Menu: A static menu comprising of both Chinese and English Language translation. A few pictures are throwing in to the mix, along with animated clips of each chapter.

Packaging: Like the menu, the packaging is in both English and Chinese, and features a cover design that lacks inventive and is housed in a single amaray.

Unfortunately, the Region 3 version of The Others is completely lacking in extras.

A gripping, excellent and intense psycho-horror is presented on a disc with terrible picture and yet excellent sound qualities. The extras don't exist, and the packaging is slightly annoying in its dual-language display. Even so, if you love The Others, want to see it in DTS and cannot wait for the Region 1 two-disc version, then why not indulge yourself.

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