The Others

(Alejandro Amenábar, Spain/USA, 2001)

BY MICHAEL KORESKY | October 31, 2021

One of the few great, truly original ghost stories of the 21st century, Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others somehow manages to combine elements and touchstones of classic supernatural horror without ever descending into pastiche. Set in a looming manse on the British island of Jersey shortly after the end of World War II, the film stars a tightly wound Nicole Kidman (recalling both Grace Kelly and the Deborah Kerr of The Innocents) as Grace, living alone with her two young children, Anne and Nicholas (Alakina Mann and James Bentley), both of whom are so photosensitive that they must be kept away from the sun, sheltered deep within the house’s many locked doors and safe behind heavy closed curtains. With the house’s patriarch presumably killed in battle, the remaining family feels intensely isolated, which only becomes more pronounced when the kids begin to claim that “others” are living in the house. Especially scary, claims Anne, is an old woman with piercing eyes whom she has seen several times; we only see the pencil drawing Anne has done of the crone, heightening our expectation of when and how we might encounter her.

The mysterious oddness of the situation is elevated by one of the film’s many effective misdirects—the striking, poised Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), a former domestic who has returned looking for work, along with a groundskeeper (Eric Sykes) and a younger, mute maid (Elaine Cassidy). Cold and clinical yet with occasional, unpredictable empathy, Mrs. Mills seems to hold a lot of secret information about the house and maintains an eerie composure about the ghosts that the children—and, increasingly, Grace—believe haunt the premises. Mrs. Mills seems, to put it mildly, unreliable, but then again, so do the children: Anne, particularly, seems to be almost enjoying the potential disruption, as though she’s putting it on to scare Grace and young Nicholas. Making it all the more difficult to parse, Anne seems particularly vindictive toward her mother, repeatedly referring to some incident that once took place and that has created a gaping distance between them.

Like Jack Clayton’s The Innocents, adapted from Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and a clear inspiration, The Others can rightfully be called an elegant work of horror, yet the film’s literary sensibility and hushed slow build do nothing to mute the terror. Apart from a handful of truly hair-raising stand-alone scares (one including a piano that seems to have a mind of its own, another in which Anne seems to undergo an insidiously quiet full-body possession from underneath a bridal veil), what ultimately distinguishes The Others as an endlessly rewatchable work of contemporary horror is the surprising emotional heft of its central twist. The final movement of The Others is no rug-puller for its own sake but rather a smart recontextualizing of everything we saw before, which both holds up to repeat scrutiny and adds a much darker dimension to what may have seemed like a derivative haunted-house story. Instead, it becomes a film about storytelling perspective, a vision of the afterlife that asks us to see the world—and ghost stories—with new eyes. 🩸


is Editorial Director at Museum of the Moving Image; cofounder and editor of the online film magazine Reverse Shot, a publication of MoMI; a longtime contributor to The Criterion Collection, where he programs the Criterion Channel series “Queersighted”; and the author of Films of Endearment (Hanover Square Press, 2021).

TWITTER: @reverse_shot

How to see The Others

The Others is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray but is currently not streaming anywhere.
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