Ghost stories are the bread and butter of campfires. That twinge of fear, the ambience, burnt marshmallows, the fire burning bright, and yet to me that means nothing when you see a ghost story done right on film. The funny thing is that it is slightly harder to choose which ones are better, when so many have an atmosphere down pat. The Others is no exception to that. It uses its gothic mansion and unique lighting situation to create a constant air of suspense. The thing that makes it so unique is its circumstances. The circumstance of the children’s photosensitivity to light, the new help arriving who seem a bit odd, the husband going off to the war, then of course strange noises and weird figures being seen all through the house. Does the narrative however give its setting and scenario enough time to breathe into a story worth sitting through this slow burn is the main question to me though.
Scenario wise, The Others starts off quite strong with the premise allowing for more distinct and appropriate lighting for tense atmosphere. Light is quite a scarce commodity within the home of Grace (Nicole Kidman) as she must keep her children safe from the light. She is confused when all her previous staff leaves her and her children alone that she is glad when three new hires arrive on their doorstep. The mansion itself is quite unsettling, due to of course its gothic style and the enormous amount of curtains closed everywhere forcing the cast to often use gas lamps to set the lighting. There is this eerie tension found within a set-up like this, that when the sounds start to happen and the children start to see other people who shouldn’t be there it truly comes into its own. The children must not be in direct sunlight, and thus this keeps the audience in constant suspense when we find the ghosts trying to tear down those very lifesaving curtains.
Nicole Kidman is the star of this film no doubt about it. My previous forays into her acting ability never quite gave me the weight or emotion that I desired from a lead female. Maybe that is because those past few titles were 2008’s Australia & 2007’s The Invasion, both not very well made films in their own right. It was a very nice surprise for me to see her in a role where she demanded the screen every second she was on it and how she primarily carried the entire film. This film also has very good casting, there was never a moment where I felt the acting was at all poorly handled, and the children actors, Alakina Mann & James Bentley, managed to help really sell the terror of the frights as well as cause tension when needed. Anne (Alakina Mann) in particular is quite the feisty character as she often comes into contention with her mother and brother on multiple occasions often desiring their father to come back from the war.
The thing I love in a good ghost story or even mystery is the layers involved and The Others handles that quite well. There is always this constant doubt within the viewers mind about most of the film’s characters and even the ghosts themselves. Is the new help merely there to cause these “ghosts” to appear in order to make Grace and her family leave? Is Grace really sane is another big question. Often she is seen in violent fits of rage and as she slowly starts to believe in the ghosts you see her continuously break down. Even the beginning of the film show’s Grace yelling at the screen as she wakes up, there is always this underlying psychopathy that invades the viewer’s mind as every character begins to notice her decreasing mental health over the whole affair. Who are the people her children see at night? This film does a great job at forcing you to think in multiple directions throughout the film, and you always seem to second yourself on numerous occasions. I know I did.
This is an extremely slow-burning psychological horror that focuses heavily on the supernatural to invoke its scares. This film won’t have too many scary scenes that will make your blood curdle, yet the tense atmosphere pervades throughout the film. The film builds upon the ghosts, builds upon your suspicions, and builds upon the paranoia until you reach the crescendo of an ending that is all worth the wait. Again the praise goes to Nicole Kidman for such a convincing performance of a mother fighting through every avenue of thought in order to save her children from whoever or whatever is pulling down those curtains.
Seeing the back and forth between Kidman and the children was a treat to behold, and often this film asks the question through some of these relations about how much you can believe from a book. Often using the bible as a reference to this theme, as the mother forces quite a few ideals from the bible upon her children. It questions the true belief of the mother, especially with the ghosts but never truly dives into anything meaningful with it. This is a very sketchy subject to be talking about in particular, often films that discuss faith walk a very narrow line. The Others never does anything to really tackle the theme and near the middle one could say they discard it all together, they merely have the children questioning the beliefs about heaven & hell and the like and don’t go anywhere really with it in a way that wraps it up. That is my true gripe with this film is that it never chases its themes down a path worth discussing, but merely teases you with a vague question it never wants to answer. To me it holds it back from being a great film, since ultimately it makes many of the scenes pointless in the grand scheme of things.
The Others is a beautifully made film that creates a suspenseful psychological horror that is effective without the use of violent imagery or gore. It doesn’t need visual horror to terrify its audience and allows its unnerving narrative and tone unsettle the audience all the way up until the end. Would I have liked for them to tackle their themes a bit more? Of course, but even with that misstep the film was still a thrill to watch from start to finish and certainly is one of the more stand out slow burns. It twists your perception and may tackle issues that are uncomforting to some, even though it is never disrespectful in the slightest using children as a good outlet for asking questions about various topics. The acting is immaculate and the directing is chilling to say the least, The Others is a triumph of a ghost story and certainly one worth remembering fifteen years since it aired.
1408 (2007) – One of the good Stephen King adaptations, 1408 is right up there with The Others in its psychological horror aspect. John Cusack gives one of the best performances in his career as the entire film nearly hinges on his performance and how the room messes with him. In the same way The Others invokes fear without the need for blood, 1408 crafts suspense from the psyche in ways that are both fun and terrifying in a real sense.
The Babadook (2014) – Modern horror at the height of its powers, The Babadook is yet another slow burning story that utilizes its ghost in a more meaningful way. It uses it thematically to create not only a technically sound film, but one that has layers to its narrative and themes. You can discuss the effects of the ghost and what it means to the family, and none of this distracts from the overall tension of the film either.
I was scared that House on Haunted Hill might be the only great film I would get to watch in this marathon is finally dispelled! I mean Fright Night and Hausu were fun but nothing you can really sink your teeth into. What is your favourite ghost story? Please put it down in the comments below and have yourself a great day!