“The Others” is nearly a perfect thriller, using tension and intrigue — not blood and gore — to create suspense that is at times almost unbearable.
The facts are laid out for us quickly, with each new revelation making the situation seem even more fraught with dark possibilities. The setting is 1945 in a large manor, enshrouded in fog, on the isle of Jersey in the English Channel. Grace (Nicole Kidman) has two young children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), who are light-sensitive and will die if exposed to sunlight. Her husband has not been heard from since World War II ended months earlier. Grace is plagued with migraines. There is no telephone or electricity. The servants all disappeared a week earlier. The new servants all used to work at the same house years ago. One of them is mute.
Chief among the new household help is Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), a delightful old Irish woman with no family; indeed, the kindly caretaker Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) and mute young Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) are all she has, and she is all they have. They are perplexed by Grace’s rules — you may not open a door in the house without first closing the previous one, for example — but have a fondness for the old home in which they formerly spent so many years.
Then Anne starts seeing ghosts. Nicholas is terrified at the prospect, and Grace thinks the girl is making it up. She starts to believe it herself, though, and that’s even more unsettling for her: A daughter with an imagination, she can deal with. Actual beings haunting her house are something else altogether.
Writer/director Alejandro Amenabar has constructed a deliciously creepy story, and he knows how to wrangle true fear from an audience. It’s not in having things leap out suddenly, accompanied by a jolt of music on the soundtrack (though there is a little of that). It’s certainly not in violence and a high body count. It’s anticipation and dread that arouse an audience’s emotions, and “The Others” is overflowing with both.
At some point in the film, we have reason to suspect each of the characters as being the one not to be trusted, the one with a dark secret, the one who is really the key to what’s going on. The film does not toss out red herrings to throw us off the trail, but we are allowed to consider several false possibilities as things unravel. When it’s all over, a second viewing — or at least some heavy-duty hindsight — may be necessary to put everything in its place.
Nicole Kidman is wonderfully, quietly unhinged as the desperate mother. She loves her children more than anything and can’t conceive of an evil presence in her house. The children are also well-played, by Alakina Mann and James Bentley, and Fionnula Flanagan is the very picture of a sweet old Irish nanny.
The film is noteworthy for being an effective thriller, yet for having absolutely no on-screen violence. A movie that scares without being gross is a rarity, and it adds to the respect I have for Amenabar’s work here. This is some of the giddiest, creepiest fun I’ve had in a while.
A (; )