Chills and thrills

Nicole Kidman attempts to smother Tom Cruise with her wedding dress.

Nicole Kidman attempts to smother Tom Cruise with her wedding dress.

Rated 4.0

If you are in the majority, and the apes and dinos running around at the movies are making you all snoozy, the supernatural thriller The Others might snap you out of your movie malaise.

This is one clever film. I see the majority of movies out there, and it’s been a long time since one has managed to baffle me on many levels. I can safely say that The Others managed to surprise me with its conclusion as much as any film in recent years.

We’ve been inundated with ghost and haunted house films recently, and only a handful of those (What Lies Beneath, portions of The Sixth Sense) have managed genuine chills. Writer-director Alejandro Amenábar knows what’s scary, and to the benefit of those producing the film, it’s not spooky entities created by high-cost special effects. Amenábar achieves his frights through suspense, great performances and psychological terror.

Nicole Kidman plays Grace, an overly emotional, sometimes overprotective mother living with her son and daughter in 1948 England. Her husband hasn’t returned form World War II, and her children have developed a horrible case of light sensitivity. When a trio of new servants show up at the door of Grace’s ominous-looking mansion searching for work, she promptly hires them, giving them instructions to make sure that any room occupied by her children must be dark, with nothing more than candlelight. This provides a nice excuse for lots of creepy, atmospheric darkness.

When Grace starts hearing bumps and crashes in the upstairs rooms, she immediately thinks that intruders have made their way into the house. Then, her daughter claims to be having conversations with a little boy who is threatening to open the curtains and make her sick. The sounds of people whispering and children crying fill the air. Strange things are afoot, and ghostly apparitions seem to be the explanation.

This is a film that is too easy to wreck by talking too much about it. My advice: Watch it without trying to figure out what’s going on. Allow the movie to unfold without playing too many guessing games. If you relax and just take it in, you might find yourself completely startled by what happens. Elements of the film might be easy to figure out, but you are one major psychic if you can put together the exact reasons for the alleged haunting.

After her career’s best work in Moulin Rouge earlier this summer, Kidman impresses again with a performance that stands among the year’s best and should get her Oscar consideration. Grace is a complicated character—sensible and strong at one moment, completely unhinged the next. Kidman makes everything about Grace convincing and plausible. She will break your heart.

Amenábar, who also composed the film’s music, as John Carpenter (Halloween) often does for his horror films, has some major gifts. While some of the film’s passages might feel a bit long-winded, they all make sense in the end. With his American film debut, Amenábar shows he has a major knack for atmosphere and pacing. I think what he has accomplished with his film far outdoes the likes of The Sixth Sense or Jan De Bont’s The Haunting. It sets the bar for future horror films.

In a summer that hasn’t delivered too many films to talk about, The Others is a blessed gift. If it doesn’t scare you, it sure as hell should surprise you. If it does neither of these things, you have perhaps become too cynical and hard to please and are in need of a good vacation.