Way back before computer graphics, movie makers knew how to scare us through what the movie didn’t show us. They knew that no one knows what scares us as well as we do ourselves, and that anything we could imagine would be far more scary than anything they could put on the screen. “The Others” is a return to that kind of old-fashioned-squeaky door hinge-flapping shutter-“Who is that playing Chopin downstairs when I know I locked the piano?”-“She can’t leave now! It’s too foggy!” sort of thriller, the kind that creeps into your bones and makes you shiver.
Grace (Nicole Kidman) and her two children live in a huge old home on an isolated island near England. World War II has ended, but she still has not heard from her husband and is trying not to let herself fear that he may be dead. Her two children have a genetic photo-sensitivity and break out in welts if they are exposed to any light stronger than a candle. The servants all left mysteriously, not even staying to get their wages, and they are there alone when three new servants show up, explaining that they worked at the house once years before and were happy there, so they have returned. Their arrival is unsettling, but not as unsettling as evidence of “intruders,” including sightings by Grace’s daughter Anne. Grace does her best to hold everything together, to protect the children’s souls (she is deeply religious, and is preparing Anne for her first communion) and their bodies (she has an elaborate system of keys to make sure that all doors are locked and all curtains drawn, to keep out light, as she says, the way a ship is designed to keep out water.
This movie is more mood than plot, but the mood is expertly handled by the writer/director and by Kidman, who makes her attempts to maintain control scarier than outright terror. The cast is outstanding and the ultimate resolution properly eerie.
Parents should know that the movie does not have any bad language or gory images, but that it is genuinely creepy and may be upsetting even for older children. Some will be concerned over Anne’s questioning of her mother’s religious principles or disturbed by the implications of the final explanation.
Families who see this movie should talk about their views on life after death and why that has been a powerful theme in fiction as well as theology from the beginning of time.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Haunting (the original, not the dopey remake), The Uninvited (one of Hollywood’s all-time best ghost stories, with a theme song that may also haunt you), and The Innocents.