Approaching the early 2000s, saturated franchises such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, and Scream had left the slasher genre devoid of any substance. Audiences were looking for something a little less generic. Blair Witch Project and Sleepy Hollow revitalised an underwhelming epoch in horror. Unconventional movies with unique tropes that surprised and excited audiences. However, nothing was quite as unusual as a Nicole Kidman led ghost movie with a largely unknown Spanish-Chilean director at the reins.
In the immediate aftermath of WW2, we follow Grace Stewart (Kidman) at her remote stately home on the island of Jersey. With her husband presumed dead in battle, Grace is living as a single mother to her two young children – Anne and Nicholas – both of whom share a strange cutaneous pathology which makes them intolerant to sunlight. The story begins with Grace hiring three new housekeepers, all of whom appear slightly too familiar with their surroundings. From there we are plunged into an uncertain, eerie narrative trickling with suspense and subtlety. The estate is submerged in a relentless fog which only serves to amplify the discomfort as increasingly detectable phenomena are revealed.
Following on from his success with the Penelope Cruz picture Open Your Eyes (later bastardised by Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise in the American re-make: Vanilla Sky), Alejandro Amenabar delivers an authentic modern horror classic. He completes the novel trifecta of director-writer-composer, which enables him to achieve his vision in each scene. Every frame is meticulously crafted, and his original score provides an unnerving backdrop. His lead is highly strung bordering on hysterical, locking every door behind her and compartmentalising the house so there is no doubt of a supernatural presence. A genius stroke painted on an immoderate background of sunlight allergies and paranoia.
The Others is not overtly scary or gratuitously violent, instead, it packs an insidious punch. Slowly manifesting under the viewer’s skin as the tension builds and we face uncomfortable questions entering the final act. Exemplary false scares and tonal changes keep the audience engrossed, but behind it all the fog thickens, the claustrophobia heightens, and the characters slowly become less amenable. It is like being slowly choked when you are distracted, only gaining awareness on your last breath. The crescendo builds moderately until the deafening realisation of the twist blasts your eardrums.
Nicole Kidman is phenomenal; an icon who Toni Collette must have studied prior to Hereditary. Her fluctuations between unhinged and controlled are balanced against her caprice and doting affection towards her children. She torpedoes the plot almost single-handedly, justifying her Golden Globe nomination. Her children, played by Alakina Mann and James Bentley, excel in their difficult roles, as they have to match the unbridled intensity of Kidman. The trio play off each other marvellously; pushing each other away, but never so far that they cannot strongly reunite.
The Others is refreshing. The scares are not sufficient to cause palpitations and the themes are not complex, but underpinning it all is a masterclass in 21st-century filmmaking. Beautifully crafted, succinctly delivered, and magnificently understated. The Others leaves viewers overwrought and suspended from a tightening rope, culminating in a satisfying but humourless conclusion, as all good horrors should.