This month, the Nerds and Beyond staff have been recommending some of our favorite spooky movies to get you in the Halloween spirit, and we’re moving right along with our scary movie countdown to Halloween. This next film is something a little unusual — even for the horror genre.
Almost two decades ago, The Others materialized into theaters on August 10, 2001, just in time for the spooky season. Darkly filmed (literally, two main characters are dangerously photosensitive) and promoted as another good gothic ghost story based on the not-so-distant past, this film is a rare twist on age-old stereotypes, complete with a tragic ending that’ll leave an uncomfortable chill running down your spine for days.
Before we begin, if you’ve never seen the film, we suggest turning back. Similar to The Sixth Sense, this suspenseful story hinges on one very important twist that’ll turn the entire plot on its head once revealed. Reading beyond this point ensures spoilers. Read at your own risk, but know the film is still an amazing ride, even after you’re clued in.
So, assuming you already know just who the Others are, let’s take a look at how the film prepared audiences to meet them.
First Look: The Dysfunctional Household
There are only six people you need to worry about for the majority of the film, starting with the overbearing and religious lady of the house, Grace (Nicole Kidman). She has two young children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), who “are photosensitive. The light will kill them!”
Beyond the immediate family, only three servants occupy the grand, maze-like house: Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), and Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes). Compared to Grace and her curious children, Mrs. Mills and her group are quite traditional in attitude and attire. Of course, they showed up out of a terrible fog, answering an advertisement that audiences learn was never mailed, claiming that they used to work in the house ages ago. Not suspicious at all.
Eerie Element One: The Family
It’s easy to love this film for its controlled use of silence, shadows, and very specific language that only leaves you wanting more. In the case of Grace and her family, quiet is valued but rarely gotten. The shadows, too, are ever-present in the absence of daylight. Their mother’s matter-of-fact candor keeps verbiage as dry and direct as a person can manage.
Still, family is family, and there are some vital moments where Grace very obviously feels her control slipping. Her daughter tells Mrs. Mills that one day, “Mummy went mad,” and Anne often repeats the vague statement whenever Grace visibly grows upset.
Eerie Element Two: The Fog
It isn’t long before ceilings shake and doors creak closed (or, better yet, slam shut). It’s enough to push Grace towards the ultimate Hail Mary: the local priest.
She takes off into the fog — a curious wall of mist that hasn’t let up since the film began — and marches on, determined to find the church and get a full cleanse of the house. She runs into another person instead: her husband, long believed to be dead from the war. Grace says he looks different. He says, “Sometimes I bleed.”
Second Look: The Dysfunctional Household and Shell-Shocked Husband
Completely shaken from his journey home, Grace’s husband, Charles (Christopher Eccleston), greets his children and then quietly crawls into his own bed.
The inevitable conversation between Grace and Charles in their bedroom is incredibly insightful. If you know the twist, you’re watching a desperate woman shrinking in on herself as the world demands answers. If you’re out of the loop, you’re seeing an estranged couple argue about their children.
Either way, it’s heartbreaking, and the first time we have a chance to see the vulnerable Grace — “They knew I couldn’t leave the house!” There are no children or servants to put on a show for here; there’s only Charles, the husband who refused to ignore the fight while Germans invaded his town; the (once) dependable, calm Charles.
He tells Grace the war is not over. By the time she wakes the next morning, he is gone.
Eerie Element Four: The Help
Beyond appearing out of the fog, conspiring to hide tombstones, and make scolding comments about Grace behind her back, Mrs. Mills and company are hardworking additions to the household. Grace herself seems relieved to have other adults nearby.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Mills, Lydia, and Mr. Tuttle turn out to be ghosts. Not the biggest surprise, but certainly a helpful one; it stands to reason all of the supernatural activity was coming from them, since it only started upon their arrival.
But Mrs. Mills proves everyone wrong and reveals that there is something else in that house — something that won’t leave them alone.
Eerie Element Five: The Others
Big reveal time! Are you ready for it? Here it comes: Grace and her children have also been ghosts the whole time! The so-called “others” are living humans who bought the house and hired a medium to help communicate with the restless spirits (AKA Grace) and put them to rest.
Surprised? We certainly were.
Unlike most horror films where the moment of truth entails an action-escape scene from a monster, a gore-fest, a love triangle, or a demon, The Others flips the terrifying events around so that the ghosts are being harassed by the humans. Better yet, the film managed to explain not only the horrific lead-up behind Grace and her children’s deaths, but also the outcome of their sudden ghostly awakening.
Whether you prefer your ghost stories jumpy or suspenseful, this film has you covered (and then some).