If I were to make a list of my ten favorite haunted house films, I would say that The Others would make the top five. I first fell in love with the film a decade ago. I re-watched it the other night to see if the sentiments were the same. On second viewing, I liked it even more.
It is a period piece, set during World War 2 on British island off the coast of France. The film takes place at a creepy manor that sits within acres of fog-filled foliage. It utilizes gothic themes artfully. Thankfully, the film substitutes shock and gore for suspense and mystery. The story itself is absorbing from beginning to end.
The film brilliantly sets up a haunting environment when the lady of the house Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) introduces three new servants to her home. She has a peculiar set of instructions. The house has many rooms, all of which have lockable doors. No door must ever be left open! When entering a room, the door must immediately be shut and locked. That way, the light of one room will not escape into the other. Why is this an issue? Grace’s two children are photosensitive; allergic to light. Therefore, all the windows are covered with drapes to prevent any invading sunlight. The servants are shown a grand piano and they are told that never must the children play with it. Grace suffers from migraines and so noise is kept to a minimum. There are no phones, no radios. In fact, the house had no electricity.
So – you have a large, isolated house on a remote section of an island that is surrounded by gardens and fog; a house that is kept gloomily dark and eerily silent without any devices to connect its occupants with the outside world. What else could there be to make the situation anymore creepier? How about a religious zealot of a mother that tells her children stories about little boys and girls that go to Limbo after they die, which is at the center of the earth where there is fire, and they live there in pain forever and ever – all because they told lies.
But wait, there’s more. Remember earlier how I said that doors inside the house must remain shut and that the windows must stay covered and that the piano must not be played? Well, these things never remain closed, covered and unused. Who is opening door, uncovering the windows and playing the piano, ghosts? Perhaps. One of the servants has an explanation for this:
A mighty strange trio these servants are!
There’s Mrs. Mills the nanny, Mr. Tuttle the gardener and Lydia the mute maid. They know things that others do not.
This film brilliantly adds its own unique twists to the scenarios it borrows from the gothic tradition. To explain how it does this would be giving too much away. I won’t do this. This is one of those films gets better and better as the mystery unravels. However, I will point out one scene in particular that perhaps is forgotten after the film is over but ought not to be (The scene stuck with me only after the second viewing). At one point, Grace is convinced there are intruders hiding in the house, disturbing the dark and quiet environment. She has the children hide away from the light while she and the three servants search the house. They open all the curtains to bring the dark corners to light. The sunlight beams through the windows one by one. Different shots of the house’s interior literally “come to light”; a long hallway, a room with a clothed table sporting an oil lamp, a den with a fireplace, walls with tapestries and murals. All of these things are common décor in haunted house movies, but in The Others, it is the light that brings out the creepiness within them, not the dark.
What more is there to say? It’s a great film. It’s refreshing that a film of such classical scares was made on this side of millennium, just squeaking in at year 2001. Makes a guy hopeful for the future!