Plot: What’s it about?
With the success of 1999’s The Sixth Sense psychological horror was “in.” Of course, in many ways the horror movie (regardless of the subculture) will never go away, but adding a unique psychological element to what could have been a run-of-the-mill film, was a stroke of genius. 2001 was also a good year for its star – Nicole Kidman. She starred in three notable films with this, Birthday Girl (worth checking out if you’re so inclined) as well as the icing on the cake in Moulin Rouge! She’d go onto win Best Actress the next year in The Hours. Suffice it to say that her split from Tom Cruise afforded her the opportunity to spread her wings and, well, she never really looked back. But could Kidman starring in a horror movie work? And would it, as well anything that even closely resembled The Sixth Sense, always pale in comparison? Let’s find out.
Just after the end of World War II we meet Grace (Nicole Kidman). She lives in a gigantic mansion in the English countryside with her two children: Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley). Her husband has since disappeared after going off to join the war. A trio of servants show up at the house looking for work and are led by Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), who claims to have worked at the mansion sometime ago. They help with the chores as well as the children and also regale them with stories about some of the strange rules of the home. Both the kids are photosensitive and, as such, must avoid the bright light. The rooms must also be lit with a candle, the curtains closed and one door must be closed before another one opens. But, as we might expect, things start to happen and, without giving too much away, they get worse.
This is truly a film where the less you know about it, the better. It works on this level since there are things just that don’t seem to make sense. Then again in horror movies, not everything does. After seeing the movie again after all these years, I’d forgotten how good it was. I was immediately engrossed in the mood, the characters and the storyline. That’s not always the case with me or the movies I choose to watch. It’s also pretty nonlinear. I felt as if we were thrown into the lives of these characters midway through and that sense of confusion helps make the film what it was (and is). Director Alejandro Amenabar, best-known for his 1997 film Open Your Eyes (which would be remade in 2001 as Vanilla Sky) never really was able to replicate his work to such critical acclaim. Still, this movie serves as a testament to the genre and a great overall movie.
Video: How’s it look?
It’s been a while since I’ve seen this movie, but I do remember one thing…how dark it is. Although this is available in a 4K edition, Criterion sent along the Blu-ray. So that’s what we’ll cover here. Did I mention this is dark? Because, yeah, it is. The 1.85:1 AVC HD encode does look pretty darn good, though. There’s a fine layer of grain that’s associated with the film and despite the physical nature of the film, I found shadows and black levels to be relatively strong. There’s no macroblocking or movement in the shadows to be found. Flesh tones seem a bit on the muted side, then again anything with Nicole Kidman will probably focus on her porcelain skin as opposed to the “whole package.” At least I would if I were directing the movie! Seriously, though, it’s a fine-looking image that’s second only to Criterion’s 4K offering. If image quality is important to you (and it should be), I’d honestly go for the 4K version, but if this one sits fine with you – it does deliver.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Thankfully, like some studios, you don’t have to pony up the extra cash to get that Dolby Atmos soundtrack. It’s included here for your listening pleasure. Though the film avoids all the usual pratfalls of the horror genre, there are some truly amazing moments of sound. The silence is immediately jaunted by a loud crash or thumb. It’s done very effectively. Vocals are, as expected, right on the mark and I found the surrounds to be fairly active throughout. This is a more of subtle sound mix, but it does deliver when necessary. There are other films out there that are a bit more “in your face”, but for what it is – I found The Others to deliver the goods on an audiophile leve.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Audio commentary – Alejandro Amenábar’s track is in Spanish and if you’re not fluent, there are subtitles. Personally, for me, I don’t really care to read while “listening” to an audio commentary so I skipped around. I’m sure the usual bases are covered and it is a new track, recorded in 2022. If this is your thing or you’re fluent in Spanish – knock yourself out.
- Alejandro Amenábar and Pau Gómez conversation – One of the new features created for this disc is presented here. In it we find the director and film critic Pau Gomez as they discuss the film’s central theme as well as some of the religious symbolism in the film. It’s interesting and always a treat to find newly-produced material for a film that’s over two decades old.
- A Look Back at The Others – If you’re feeling a bit nostalgic, then this new feature is for you. Alejandro Amenabar, Nicole Kidman, Christopher Eccleston, and producer Fernando Bovaira discuss the film, as well as what we’d expect – what led them to it, some of the undertones and its long-lasting appeal. It’s a good watch and oh so nice since it’s, you know…new.
- The Making of The Others – Moving onto the “vintage” features we find this one with nearly the same group as above. Some more technical details are found like shooting locations and so forth. It’s been a while since I’ve seen this and it does a great job of giving us the big picture.
- On the Set – Clocking in at 5 minutes we find this relatively short feature that focuses on the director, his methods and so forth.
- Art Direction – As expected, we get a slew of sketches with the narration in Spanish. But again, we get subtitles.
- Digital Effects – We get a a short segment on the digital effects used in the film along with comments from the VFX producer.
- Recording the Soundtrack – Pretty much just that. We find director Alejandro Amenabar as he gives us his comments on the soundtrack.
- Photographing the Dead – Like above, juts that. We get a crash course in photography as one of the key props is photographed.
- Audition Footage – When you’re Nicole Kidman, you don’t need to audition. But the kids who were playing her children did. Here we find some archival footage of Alakina Mann and James Bentley as they try to make their dreams come true.
- Deleted Scenes – Nearly 10 minutes’ worth of deleted scenes are shown, though none really added anything additional.
- Illustrated Booklet – The staple of any/all Criterion titles and this time we have film critic Philip Horne as he gives us his insight in essay form along with the obligatory production photos.
The Bottom Line
If psychological horror is your thing, then The Others is and should be right up your alley. And, thankfully, the early 2000’s was littered with movies like these with What Lies Beneath, The Skeleton Key and The Sixth Sense just to name a few. Criterion’s new disc gives us an improved transfer, new features and a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. There’s little not to like with this one.