Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Others (2001)
Director: Alejandro Amenabar
Writer: Alejandro Amenabar
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan
Released: August 2001
Film Review By: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi
“Sometimes the world of the living gets mixed up with the world of the dead.” – Mrs. Mills
The Others (2001) is a more mainstream gothic film that was popular most likely at the time it released because 1) Nicole Kidman 2) because films like this were popular at the time (The Sixth Sense came out with a splash in 1999). It debuted at number four at the box office and climbed to number two. However, it’s lasting popularity I think is that it’s also actually an incredible movie and has a shocking twist. It being good is validated by its twenty-nine award wins and fifty-two nominations, including Kidman for a Golden Globe.
I remember the first time I watched it still. Though I always liked gothic tales and mysteries, at that time I wasn’t reading or watching horror much. I loved The Sixth Sense when I saw it on video one night, holding my three or four-month-old son. It was the ending that got me, because I’ve always been a sucker for surprise endings when watching TV or reading. I enjoyed hearing there’d be more movies like this in the future. However, in growing my family and being busy with work and life, I didn’t see The Others until a few years after its release. Of course, rarely on social media, which was just truly getting started at the time, I didn’t see any spoilers either (yay!!). When I watched it one night, I was blown away, petrified, and exhilarated all at the same time. This was what I wanted to watch, read, and write. In a way, The Others is one of those movies that helped me along with my own style of writing as well, which is, creating a major twist or surprise ending. Kind of like Hitchcock, Jackson, James, or Poe. I was so happy for gothic to reemerge. The Others is an excellent study in gothic writing and film. Nothing scares me worse than a haunting.
I always have the hardest time writing these reviews because I don’t want to give away the plot, and especially not the twist, so I’ll do my best to focus on other elements. Of course, this is the second time I watched it also, for this review, so the surprise has been given away for me. Because of that, I’m focusing on both the first and second viewings.
I love the opening of this film—from Kidman’s character Grace’s narration to the music to the vintage folk-art during credits. It really sets the stage so to speak. It’s a very atmospheric opening with an old mansion surrounded by fog in the Channel Islands between France and England. Then, Grace wakes up screaming in a nightmare.
The setting intrigues me then, and now, because it’s set in 1945 with Grace and her children retiring to the countryside to await her husband to come home from war. The inside of the mansion channels the aesthetic with stained glass, staircases, paintings, fireplaces, and….keys. Keys are always suspect to me and the act of opening almost every door with a key is unnerving. Grace recounts to the servants that come to the door for hire, that they have no electricity also creates a creep factor because there is darkness, and oil lamps, and no exposure to light. That’s right, Grace’s children have photosensitivity and can’t be exposed to daylight. The juxtaposition between light and darkness and the thin veil between is prominent throughout the film.
Color in film is always something I tend to fixate on as well. I’m very interested in how color helps tell the story or sets the scene. In this film, I love the burgundy, maroon, browns, dark gray, olives, purple, pink or blue on Grace’s daughter. Everyone is rosy like rouge, pinks in the cheeks reflected from clothing, glow from the lamplight. Blue in the stained glass. Blues, purples, grays create dramatic intensity and can also indicate trauma. The color in this film is highly effective in my opinion, especially given that a majority of the film is dark with only muted daylight scenes. The emergence of white and ivory into the outfits of Grace and the children also is genius once you think about it when you’ve seen the ending. As things start to unravel, the mystery starts to be made clear to the characters (even if not the viewers yet), and I like thinking back and realizing how the clothing played a part in that.
The Chilean Alejandro Amenabar wrote, directed, and composed the score for this movie. The music is beautiful and haunting and helps create emotion and tension, which to me is an astounding feat to also score the music on a film so difficult to direct (because of its close and taut scenes). It propels the entire film and leads us in our viewing—it sets the scene for us when there is no talking, just visuals, but also carries along with the confusion and apprehension.
In addition, the award-winning cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe carries the quick moving and close-up shots that create tension and anxiety, quite an even more amazing feat with only a few rooms inside a mansion being the set. But the use of light, movement, and imagery of items create for a stellar view. It’s even more fantastic coupled with the score by Amenabar. They grow and intertwine to give viewers a wonderful full-fledged experience. Amazingly enough this all lent to being able to be filmed cheaply too without any compromise from the audience.
Grace’s anxiety as a controlling, religious, and dramatic mother helps to also create uneasy feelings in the film itself as Kidman’s acting is so good you can palpably feel her anxiousness and fear. It’s even more indicated by the calm demeanor of her daughter and the fearfulness of her son. Kidman certainly deserved her Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and her other multiple wins for Best Actress. The acting of Kidman and the children makes this movie, as again, it’s shot almost fully within the confines of the house. The story must unfold through their eyes, and that they were able to create such fear in me, with multiple jumps (even the second watch through), is indicative of superb acting. It also takes a lot of talent to fight against invisible antagonists and have her emotions being told not only through words but her bodily mannerisms. They are real, not over top, and as viewers we can sense her fear and confusion.
As eventually she heads outside the home, directing the servants out to the cemetery too, we realize the servants might not have her intentions in mind (or do they?). She stumbles upon her husband coming home from war, which throws a new dynamic to the story and we feel her relief. And yet, we still feel things are not what they seem. We aren’t sure as viewers to be happy or sad for the family. They are happy to see him. He is sad and confused and distant. Grace and her daughter are fighting because Grace insists to her daughter there are not intruders and the daughter is determined there is. After this point, I don’t want to say too much more about the plot, because the servants start talking amongst themselves and viewers can be assured something is not right.
The sadness becomes its own character as we continue the movie. Fear takes a back seat to the sadness; a general feeling of being scared takes over for tension. Anger is an increasing emotion. And as things begin to unravel, I have to say I get creeped out, especially by the scene with the daughter in the white dress. The creepiest things to me are some of the lines in this film. I can’t type them here or talk about them because it would give the plot away, but there is so much being questioned here about religion, God, life and death, after death, etc. However, they are thought-provoking lines and the dialogue is so well-written in this story it makes you think.
The ending is one that goes down to me as one of the top film endings that’s ever caught me off my feet, or off guard. I certainly wasn’t expecting it years ago when I saw it for the first time and I still remember how I felt when watching it. It’s one of my favorite endings for this shock value and for how much each minute of the plot was intricately tied and led up to it. Watching it back a second time now, knowing, it still feels tense and scary to me and I almost couldn’t wait for it to be revealed again and when it was, I relished in the emotional, gripping, touching, and poignant writing.
I’m so impressed by Alejandro Amenabar’s writing and directing and I’ve loved several of his other films since then like Vanilla Sky and Regression. This film was produced in Spain and shot mostly on location there. It also was released there under the Spanish title of same name, however, it’s an English-speaking film. It won numerous awards in the United States and internationally, as it did various Goya Awards in Spain. It was the first English-only film to win the prestige best film award in Spain. It’s not surprising it has such a high rating and is a gold standard of films in this sub-genre that many films aspire to but can’t always meet. I heard through the grapevine that the movie went a direction he didn’t want it to, and I don’t know if this is true, but either way I certainly hope he will continue to write and direct film.
This movie has been compared in content to Turn of the Screw written in 1898 by Henry James. In Turn of the Screw, a governess at an isolated estate becomes convinced the grounds are haunted. However, the twist isn’t the same here, and it veers off differently, so possibly it was inspired by this story but for me I also see snippets of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Both of these, of course, are great examples of gothic books and have been made into films that fall into the psychological horror and thriller categories with The Others.
I’d highly recommend this gothic, supernatural tale for fans of horror, mystery, and suspense. It will give you a psychological suspense fix if you need one like I often do. It’s a perfect frightening film for this time of year for fright. Currently, you can watch it if you have a Starz subscription, but otherwise you can buy or rent on multiple sites for a low fee.
“This house is ours.”
Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi has Bachelor of Arts degrees in English, Journalism, and History. She has twenty years of experience in the communication and marketing fields and is currently an author, writer, journalist, publicist, and an editor.
Breathe. Breathe., published by Unnerving in 2017, is her debut collection of dark poetry and short stories and was an Amazon best-selling paid title, debuting at #2 in Hot New Releases in Women’s Poetry and held both that and the top ten of horror short stories several times over the course of the year after publishing. She has poetry and short stories featured in several anthologies such as Hardened Hearts, Dark Voices, Project Entertainment’s My Favorite Story, and the soon to be released 7 Deadly Sins of the Apocalypse, as well as magazines and sites such as Enchanted Conversation, The Siren’s Call, and Spillwords Press. She was also the co-editor and curated the poetry portion of the Gothic anthology Haunted are these Houses.
In horror, she’s been a contributor to sites such as Beneath the Underground, The Horror Tree, and Machine Mean. You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com and find her easily at her website Oh, for the Hook of a Book!, Amazon, or GoodReads. You’ll also find her on Facebook, Twitter (@erinalmehairi), and Instagram.
“It’s full of the unexpected – bits of lace cut through with the odd and the horrible and the beautiful. Through it all I sense the power of a survivor!! And I love that!”
—Sue Harrison, internationally bestselling author of Mother Earth Father Sky (Ivory Carver Trilogy)