Afraid of the light
Nicole Kidman turns a ghostly screw in her latest flick
The Others is an arty suspense vehicle for Nicole Kidman, and it dabbles at length in quasi-Hitchcockian psycho-horror. With Kidman playing a character named Grace and looking very much like the Grace Kelly of Rear Window, the Hitchcock connection seems self-evident, but Alejandro Amenábar’s film is a genteel ghost story even more reminiscent of the Henry James classic The Turn of the Screw (filmed memorably as The Innocents in the 1960s).
As an apparent war widow raising two allergic-to-light kids in an old Jersey Islands mansion circa 1945, Kidman delivers a good more-than-meets-the-eye performance; but the dominant presence is the house itself, a possibly haunted mansion made all the spookier by Grace’s frantic efforts to keep the windows covered against even the preternaturally omnipresent foggy daylight that cuts the place off from the rest of the world.
Disturbingly ambiguous sound effects enhance the film’s “Old Dark House” factor, but The Others is less concerned with psychic labyrinths in The Shining mode than with conveying a sense of the mansion as some sort of (literal) heart of darkness. Indeed, Amenábar and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe have conspired to make much of their film a half-blind waltz through several kinds of darkness. Several key characters are “in the dark” for much of the story, and so are we.
Ultimately, Amenábar and company throw some intriguing light on the story’s mysteries, but many viewers are likely to feel that we’ve been left in the fog too long for the final enlightenment to matter much. The Others is elegantly judicious when it comes to shock effects, of which there are only a few, but this is a movie that might have gained in interest from a more indulgent approach to its potential cheap thrills.