REVIEWS by SULLYDOG

THE OTHERS
a film by Alejandro Amenabar
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Eric Sykes, Elaine Cassidy. Directed by: Alejandro Amenabar. Produced by: Jose Luis Cuerda, Fernando Bovaira, Sunmin Park. Written by: Alejandro Amenabar. Distributor: Miramax Films.

The Others is a spooky movie, but before Sullydog tells you all about it, let him relate the real horror of his moviegoing experience: cheese fries and chili dogs. You see, my viewing of The Others took place at the Star Theatre in Southfield, Michigan. It's one of those humongoid, dreadnought-class theatres that sprung up all over the place in the last decade. When you take your seat, you suddenly realize you're not in a movie theatre. You're in a Chucky Cheese's or a Coney Island. People are sucking down hot dogs, nachos, and double-breaded deep-fried chicken nuggets as fast as their greasy little fingers can shovel them into their overstuffed faces. Slurp, munch, grunt, smack! The nauseating smell of cheap meat by-products, overworked cooking fat and gel-phase Velveeta hangs in the air like a thrombogenic miasma. It's a cardiologist's wet dream.

Now, as one of our great contemporary philosophers would say, I don't want to get off on a rant here. Popcorn and soda at the movies are just tradition. De rigeur. But honestly, people. We can't let up on the triglycerides and salt long enough to watch a freakin' movie? The all-American overfed sausage people can't stop stuffing their bulging sausage skin with greasy sausage food for two miserable hours? And let me tell you something: if for some unfathomable reason I was going to eat foul-smelling, gross-looking, double-processed industrial shit like this, I wouldn't just do it in the dark. I'd do it in private.

Anyway, you're out there, and you know who you are, so just let me tell you this: You're pigs, you're revolting, and you make going to the movies feel, sound and smell like a trip to the trough. And as soon as I find a first-run theatre that doesn't think it's a Mickey D's, the Star can kiss my business goodbye.

Rant over.

Slurp, munch, grunt, smack!

Uh...Oh, yeah! The review! The Others, as I said at the beginning, is a spooky movie. Meaning it should most certainly spook you out. Meaning Director/Writer Alejandro Amenabar did a terrific job. This kind of thing doesn't happen so often anymore, which makes The Others even more of a delight. It's a ghost story, and something of a haunted house story, and also a very human story of guilt and terrible secrets.

Grace (Nicole Kidman) is really uptight. For one thing, she's completely invested in the whole Christian cosmology in the most repressed way, totally into guilt and sin and hellfire and purgatory and catechism and rosaries and getting her kids ready for their confirmation. Also, her husband has not returned from the war and is presumed dead. Grace and her two young children, a boy and a girl, live alone in a huge house on an apparently deserted island in Jersey, which was not long ago under the occupation of the recently defeated Nazis. Presumably this has also contributed mightily to her sphincter tone.

The kids are part of her repressed headspace too, for, as she explains to the new help, they're allergic to sunlight. If the curtains and shutters aren't kept closed, the light will send Grace's wee ones into anaphylactic shock. Add to all that a terrible secret that nobody wants to talk about, and her little girl's obsession with an imaginary friend who presently turns out to be one of an entire family of bona fide poltergeists, and you've got a lady who's just really wound too tight, long before the heyday of Prozac and Zoloft.

Things quickly get out of hand with the invisible intruders, who open curtains and leave doors unlocked, play the piano, go bumpety-bump in the room upstairs, and generally creep us out. The Others is a delight because it is a successful resuscitation of what is very nearly a dead form: a genuinely spooky movie without a bit of gore. It's all in the pacing, the setting, the acting, the lighting the BOO! When was the last time you went to a movie and you and your sweety clutched each other and went "yike! shit!" out of shock and suspense, and then giggled uncontrollably at the release of realizing they'd just gotcha? The Others even got the sausage people to stop sucking on their chili nachos now and again, and it wasn't because they were grossed out. Just too scared to keep shoveling.

Amenabar knows exactly what he's doing. What he's doing is ripping a page, or maybe an entire chapter, out M. Night Shyamalan's book, and doing just as well--or maybe better. Like Shyamalan, Amenabar sometimes forgets the difference between pacing that's deliberate and just plodding. The sound engineer, post-production mixer, and boom operator all need to be taken out back and shot--some of the whispered dialogue is simply inaudible. But overall this is a beautifully crafted and evocative piece of filmmaking.

And of course there's the Shyamalan-style surprise ending you've all heard about. Hopefully nobody's spoiled it for you, because it's done just as well as Unbreakable and far better than The Sixth Sense, with tremendous pathos and humanity, and even a touch of redemption. The characters are reachable and human. Nicole Kidman, who (ahem!) blew me away in To Die For, scores again with a superb performance. Here she affects an icy, rigid beauty, and I kept thinking that 50 years ago this part would have gone to Joan Collins or Betty Davis. Kidman has done an amazing thing here--she's created a horribly flawed, selfish, repressed, remote character, and still manages to engage us. In Kidman's Grace we recognize ourselves, trapped within the dark chambers of our own shame and grief, unwilling to let the light cleanse the corners of our soul. Again and again, Amenabar frames shots of the exquisite, eerily perfect lines of Kidman's face set behind the bars of her spiritual confinement. We want to help her find a way out, because maybe that would mean we have a way out, too. But in the end we can only pity her, and the two innocent children who share her prison.

The Shining meets The Sixth Sense.
Sullydog Approves.

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