Oddly, quite a few people hated this atmospheric ghost story when it came out. It’s a tale with a twist, set just after the end of the Second World War and it’s directed by the Spaniard Alejandro Amenábar. He was a cult name back then, thanks to Tesis and Abre Los Ojos and perhaps he was a bit too out there for some tastes. Nicole Kidman plays the woman waiting for her missing husband to return from the war, a too-dutiful mother who keeps their kids locked away from the light (they’re allergic to it, she says) in a weird dark house kept functioning by a trio of servants. They, we have seen, turned up spookily at the precise moment her previous servants had decided they’d had enough of this woman’s strange behaviour and walked out. Nicole Kidman is a real asset here. Always a hell of a presence when being severe – which is why she was so wrong in Moulin Rouge, and so much better as a dominatrix Russian bride in Birthday Girl – Kidman isn’t at her best when panting girlishly, unless maliciously (as in her Hollywood breakout, To Die For). And regardless of whether you love or hate this film, you’ll be hard pushed to get a better screwed-to-the-hilt performance than the one delivered by the tinder-dry Kidman; this is a real lesson in controlled hysteria. And you might find the non-snottiness of the kids amazing too. As for the rest of the actors – lovely, entirely deaf, almost totally blind Eric Sykes among them – they’re just dandy. But in spite of Kidman, Sykes et al what really set this film apart are its technical crew – lighting cameraman Javier Aguirresarobe and set designer Benjamin Fernández. They realise that The Others is a key work in a new emerging cinematic style – the Spanish haunted house horror – and they lay on the atmospherics, the drab colours, the dark corners, and they turn the house itself into a dominant character in the film. Yes, “a character in the film” is a cliche. Here, though, it’s true.
© Steve Morrissey 2013