“Now children, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…”
A good ghost story is actually pretty hard to pull off. Unlike a typical slasher or monster movie, ghost stories can’t really depend on visual elements to carry the burden. Certainly, there have been those films where apparitions take on some pretty creepy forms, and that can go a long way. The Asian horror market has explored that world often enough. Still, some of the best ghost stories make their impact on what you can’t really see. It’s the tale and the telling that makes a film like The Others come to life. It’s a film that hasn’t really gotten the attention or credit it has deserved over the years. Perhaps with Lionsgate’s new Blu-ray release of the 2001 film some of that can be corrected.
This is one of those films where I can’t really tell you a lot about the story without revealing too much and completely spoiling the film for you. Like The Sixth Sense, this film is going somewhere, and you simply can’t enjoy it as much the first time if you already know the destination. Once you’ve seen it you can watch it with some appreciation for the destination, and like The Sixth Sense you’ll find yourself looking for clues on subsequent viewings. You’ll want to know if there were any breadcrumbs to find and why you missed them the first time.
What I can tell you is the set-up. Grace Stewart (Kidman) lives alone in a rather large mansion with her two children Anne (Mann) and Nicholas (Bentley). Her husband had gone off to fight in World War II. But the war has been over for nearly a year and a half and he hasn’t returned. She requires help keeping such a large house and sends an advert for servants. When they arrive she has some rather strange instructions for them. Curtains must remain closed at all times, and no door may be opened until the one before it has been closed and locked. Her children suffer from a rare disease that makes light fatal. They are photosensitive, and anything more than a bright candle could be fatal.
When the children begin to talk of seeing a young boy in the house Grace believes it is either imagination or a cruel joke by her daughter Anne to frighten her brother. She attempts to run a rigid household and is quite strict with both children and servants. Soon, even Grace can’t deny that there is another presence in the house. The servants know the truth, and nothing is as it appears to be. Yeah, I know. You’ve heard that a million times before. Bank on it here.
There was once a time when it was the story that counted in a horror film. There were limitations on what you could once put on a screen either because the technology didn’t exist or the censors just wouldn’t allow it. Now the floodgates are open as computer images can pretty much create anything you can imagine. Restrictions have been relaxed quite significantly over the years, and a horror movie like this would be more about jumps and graphic images of ethereal creatures or dismembered corpses, not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. Readers here know that I love a good gore-fest as much as the next guy. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t like an old-fashioned story with real chills and atmosphere once in a while. Why has the advent of one type of film meant the extinction of the others? There’s room for both, and one look at The Others and you’ll find yourself in agreement. It’s not a great film, but it’s quite clever and well put together from the acting and script to the cinematography.
Nicole Kidman has rarely been better. She’s a woman who has relied on her looks for many of her most notable parts. Give the actress credit for allowing herself to look downright plain here and letting herself go to a place that must not have been very comfortable even if it was just pretend. Grace Stewart is the image of a woman barely hanging on to her own sanity. She has the burden of taking care of children with an exceptional disease, and her husband is missing in war. This is an era where women were not always permitted to be strong, yet Grace has to find it in herself or she’ll go completely mad. At times she believes she already has. Kidman delivers it all in the most subtle but convincing manner that her journey becomes your journey, and the destination is just as devastating to you as it might be for her. She has to come to grips with the fact that she is capable of things no one wishes to admit to. The children do an equally fine job. Both of the child actors are strong here. They give emotional performances that you don’t see in a lot of experienced adult actors. Finally, much of the same can be said for Fionnula Flanagan, who plays the main servant Bertha Mills. This is certainly a film where the performances provide the chills and not Hollywood tricks or special effects. It’s worth a look this Halloween.
The Others is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average 22 mbps. There are two sides to this high-definition image presentation. When the image is bright enough there is evidence of wonderful texture and atmosphere. Unfortunately, the film is necessarily dark most of the time, and black levels are not impressive at all. While I wouldn’t call it compression artifact, there is a softness to the blacks that manages to blur any shadow definition that might exist on the original print. I’m disappointed in the low bit rate and overall shape of the image here. Still, it beats any DVD release and is the way to go if you don’t already own the film. If you do, I’m not really sure it’s worth the upgrade.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is horrible. This is one of those mixes where you have to ride the remote control and nothing is more irritating than that. Dialog is often so soft and low that you have to crank the thing to hear what anyone is saying. But then the score comes in or some crash, and suddenly your eardrums are breaking and you have to lower the volume. This is absolutely unforgivable, particularly these days, and it’s another reason to avoid the upgrade if you already own the film.
The extras are pretty much standard definition.
A Look Inside The Others: (21:56) Somewhat of a promo piece with narration. It is obviously from the production time frame and intended to promote the film.
Visual Effects Piece: (4:29) Raw footage of various scenes at various stages of f/x.
Xeroderma Pigmentusum – What Is It?:(8:57) The story of real families with children who suffer from the same light allergy.
An Intimate Look At Director Alejandro Amenabar: (8:14) More raw behind the scenes footage with a focus on the director in action.
Journey with us back to the time when Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise were still a couple. The days before Cruise would embarrass himself by jumping on couches to express his love for someone else. In these days he expressed his love by helping to provide a fine vehicle for his wife’s talents. Cruise was a producer on the film, and it’s obviously intended as a showcase for Kidman. Now that’s a valentine worth giving. Keep the couch. “Ah, those were the days.”