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The Others: Something in This House

<em>The Others: </em>Something in This House

A beautiful, intense woman stands in a large, dusky room, lit only by an oil lamp, her eyes wide in concern and something not far from panic, her eyebrows tremulously registering every thought and fear that passes through her mind, as she listens to the terrible quiet of the big house where she lives with her two children. In Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others (2001)—a fog-enshrouded ghost story set on the English Channel island of Jersey, in the immediate aftermath of its liberation from the Nazis—the central character’s quicksilver shifts of emotion are registered with such extreme delicacy that we are irresistibly drawn into her world of apprehensions. We cannot help admiring the courage of Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) as she moves through dark corridors and chambers that she suspects are haunted, a lamp in one hand and often a shotgun in the other—even if at the same time we are frightened of her in her brittle compulsiveness, her dangerous readiness to overreact.

One of the other charged images that The Others sears in our minds: Grace’s very small, moonfaced son sitting at a large table, a single lamp marooning him with his schoolwork in a small pool of light, seized with terror as he looks round the shadowy reaches of the huge room where he has been locked in alone despite his protestations, on his mother’s insistence that he imagine the part of hell reserved for bad children. This beautiful but threatening image in fact harks back to the personal source material of this hypersensitized, psychological distillation of gothic-horror elements, Amenábar’s third feature after the darkly impressive Thesis (1996) and the wildly ingenious Open Your Eyes (1997): the director’s own youth. “My childhood was beset by fears—fear of the dark, fear of half-open doors, fear of closets, and, generally speaking, fear of anything that could conceal someone or ‘something,’ ” Amenábar, who was born in Chile and raised in Spain (where his family relocated just days before Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 coup), has said. “Thus, it is no surprise that I should become an avid devotee of the occult film.”

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