Criterion Review: THE OTHERS

A girl, a boy and a woman sit around a table in a dimly lit room.
(L to R) Alakina Mann, James Bentley and Nicole Kidman in The Others. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

Despite its box office success, Alejandro Amenábar’s 2001 thriller The Others was a challenge to find in recent years. I bought a used DVD set some years back when I couldn’t stream it anywhere. While I’m not a regular viewer of scary movies, there’s something special about this film that makes me miss it when I haven’t seen it in a while. Thankfully, Criterion Collection is releasing a wonderful 4K BluRay package so fans and newcomers won’t have to hunt so hard.

Based in the Channel Islands – filmed in the director’s homeland of Spain – Nicole Kidman leads the cast as Grace, a woman confined to a large estate, caring for her two children who are deathly allergic to sunlight. It’s 1945 and she awaits her husband’s (Christopher Eccleston) return from the war. As she walks a trio of new staff through the house, we learn the important rule that “no door must be opened without the previous one being closed first.” This keeps young Anne and Nicholas from exposure to daylight creeping in through the windows of outer rooms.

An elderly woman and man talk in a foggy field.
Fionnula Flanagan and Eric Sykes in The Others. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

Unsettling, dissonant scoring (along with writing and directing, Amenábar composed the music for The Others) hints that something isn’t quite right about this situation. Soon after the housekeeper (Fionnula Flanagan), gardener (Eric Sykes) and mute maid (Elaine Cassidy) start on, strange occurrences begin to happen. Locked doors are found opened. Anne (Alakina Mann) swears she’s met a boy named Victor in her room and tells of an old woman who wants to ask her questions. Grace feels the cautious world she’s created for her children is falling apart.

The framing of shots is carefully constructed in The Others, as if a visual display of Grace’s control. In the interview on the Criterion package, Amenábar speaks of using static camerawork for restraint. Grace’s love for her children is overwhelming, her strict nature shown through their homeschooling lessons and her threats of being sent to Limbo for misbehavior. Darkness and light are twisted metaphors here as the children are thought safest kept in the dark (literally and figuratively). As in obvious influence The Haunting, the house in The Others turns into a character itself.

Amenábar’s haunting thriller is notable, not only for opening up further opportunities for Kidman to carry a commercial film, but for its dedication to detail. There’s something new to notice and appreciate in each viewing. Like Kidman notes in one of the Criterion package’s new supplements, “I hold it an absolute treasure.”

Close-up of Nicole Kidman's frightened face.
Nicole Kidman in The Others. Courtesy of Criterion Collection.

The many special features on the Criterion package (available in 4K and BluRay) include:

  • director-approved 4K digital restoration
  • a director’s commentary track (en español with English subtitles) by Alejandro Amenábar
  • interview with director Amenábar and film critic Pau Gómez. Amenábar discusses the influences of the film, from exploring the inner world of his childhood to the impact of Hitchcock and the 1980 horror film The Changeling. The filmmaker says the character of Grace is based on his mom and credits Kidman with adding more dimension to the role.
  • A Look Back at The Others. This 2023 short from StudioCanal UK includes appearances and memories from the director, producer Fernando Bovaira, actress Kidman and actor Christopher Eccleston.
  • a 2002 making-of short (along with many other behind-the-scenes glimpses)
  • footage from auditions of Alakina Mann and James Bentley
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