Director: Alejandro Amenábar (Spain, USA, France, Italy). Year of Release: 2001
Jersey, 1945. Grace is showing the new servants around her huge house – there’s a housekeeper, a gardener and a mute girl who I guess is the utility player. They’ve come to replace the old servants who disappeared for no apparent reason without even staying for a pay cheque. Grace assumes that the new people are responding tp the letter she sent out asking for help – as it happens, the letter that never got sent, but we’ll get to that later.
Grace proffers a large bunch of keys and explains how each door must be closed before the next one is opened. All windows must be covered at all times as Grace’s children are photosensitive – an allergic disease which is triggered by exposure to sunlight. It is not clear – and does not become clear – whether this disease is real or a controlling device used by whatever the 1940s equivalent of a helicopter mum is.
There’s no electricity, telephone or radio – they used to have some, but they stopped working some time during the war, and Grace has now got used to things as they are (it’s also unclear what her kids think about this). Whatever this means within the story, it guarantees plenty of moody shots of rooms in the shadows where we’re not really sure what is happening on the other side of the wall.
Grace tries to inculcate her children with fundamentalist Catholicism. There is heaven and hell, but they shouldn’t worry about any of this, because they are obviously blessed. Similarly, should their missing father die, he will be redeemed as he was fighting on the side of the good guys (when Grace’s daughter Anne asks how we know who the good guys are, this is quickly brushed off).
One night, Anne wakes up screaming. Later she says that she’s been visited by a strange boy called Victor. She makes a drawing of the intruders that she’s seen in the house. Grace hears music playing behind a closed door. Anne insists on wearing a communion dress, despite Grace’s obvious agitation. When Grace tells her enough is enough and tries to remove her daughter’s veil, Anne’s face has been replaced by that of an old woman.
Grace starts to feel that she’s going mad, but has a hunch that the servants may be up to something. She leaves the house in thick fog but they tell each other she won’t get far. She stumbles across her husband, who had gone to war 18 months ago, even though Jersey was occupied and Grace felt that he should have stayed to look after his family. He then takes to bed, too weak to do anything strenuous, like eating. Then he disappears just as quickly as he arrived.
When Grace goes off on one about a hidden cemetery, we see the servants covering up gravestones with old leaves. Grace’s children sneak out down the drainpipe and come across the servants doing sinister things. Then when all the curtains suddenly disappear, Grace has had enough and starts threatening them with a shotgun.
Somehow the tension is maintained throughout the film. We are continually on edge, feeling something strange is about to happen, and more often than not, it doesn’t. It could be something to do with the spooky house, the characters straight out of central casting or the closed rooms. Whatever, the film succeeds in being just eerie from beginning to end.
I somehow missed The Others when it came out in 2001. Before I went to this showing, my friend Jacinta told me that there’s a twist, which she’d got early on. So did I, well sort of. Knowing that there was a twist, I assumed that it was the twist that always happens in this sort of film (it was, sort of). But even while I was assuming this, I couldn’t work out how any of it all made sense. So the real twist was much larger and involved way more people than anything I’d assumed.
For all this, I’m still not 100% certain that I haven’t been sold a pup, that if I start thinking about it, it will turn out to be just stupid. But so many things were going on that my brain can’t cope with thinking it through to the end. I’m accepting that the spookiness worked because although I accept that it might have been a heap of nonsense, I can’t work out why.
So, I think that The Others isn’t a complete waste of your time. I think that in instils a mood which spooks you throughout. But I’m just one article away from reading how its all a load of nonsense that was just trading on a film year that had just seen The Sixth Sense and had desensitised an audience to accepting any old bollocks. Look, I don’t know. It seemed to work for me, but I’m not entirely sure.