Take one part "Beetlejuice," stir in three parts "The Sixth Sense," and add a soundtrack that plays on the nerves like "The Shining," and what do you get? No, you won't get a great horror movie, you'll have wasted $20 on videotapes or DVDs that you've just ruined beyond repair.
"The Others," which I finally overcame my general dislike of Nicole Kidman enough to watch, thanks is an excellent ghost story. I'd heard before that it had a surprise ending, so it's probably no fault of the movie that I figured out within the first ten minutes of the movie that the main characters were all dead, and realized as soon as the haunting started that they were being disturbed by live people who had moved into their house. Still, even knowing all this, there was enough mystery and suspense surrounding the supporting characters and the nature of the main characters' deaths to keep me watching. In that sense, it was a combination of "Beetlejuice" and "The Sixth Sense," but it was a good and clever combination.
"The Others" tells the story of a woman living in Jersey at the end of World War II. Her husband has gone off to war, and she has had to bear the burden of caring for their children by herself, a burden heightened substantially by their extreme photosensitivity. An actual condition used in the movie, people so afflicted suffer severe burns from any measurable sunlight. Grace (Kidman) has been caring for her children by herself, cut off from the outside world and modern conviences because of the war, and has been pushed to the edge.
The story begins as Grace hires three strangers as new servants, the previous servants having disappeared from the house a week earlier. As the new servants settle in, strange things begin to happen and the children report seeing other people in the house, including a mother; a father; their son, Victor; and a strange old woman who has appeared more than any of the others. The servants plainly know something about what is happening, but they say little to nothing about it.
The movie dangles a number of clues in front of the viewer about what has happened -- Anne keeps saying that their mother went mad; Grace actually attacks her daughter at one point when she thinks the girl is possessed, and Anne screams, "She's mad! She's not going to stop until she kills us!"; and there are several oblique references to "that day," although what exactly happened never becomes clear until the last several minutes of the movie.
The child actors did excellent job with their parts, particularly the girl who played Anne. The way they interacted -- not just in words, but in body language and tone -- telegraphed the family history, although the exact nature of that history didn't become clear until Grace walked in on the seance. "A pillow? Is that how your mother killed you, children?"
The medical condition, and the need to keep the curtains closed at all times, was a brilliant metaphor for the family's efforts to keep themselves in the dark about what had happened, the way the boy kept denying anything had happened, the way Anna admitted it openly but still kept its exact nature from herself, and of course the way Grace tried to convince herself it had never happened. Their reactions at the seance were incredible, too. Anne's shock, her brother's insistent screams, "We're not dead! We're not dead!" and the way Grace staggered and dropped her Rosary as she realized that it hadn't been a bad dream, that God hadn't given her quite the second chance she had thought, and the way she tore into the seance, as if she hoped that by shaking the table and tearing up the papers she might make it not true.
The moment before the seance was one of those great moments, incidentally, where Anna joined her brother in hugging their mother, the first sign of affection she had shown the entire movie. You could see that she had forgiven her mother for hurting her earlier, and that forgiveness led to the first real act of tenderness on Grace's part, as she cuddled with her children in the hallway and soothingly explained everything that had happened and how horrified she had been at what she had done.
And of course, the other three ghosts -- Mrs. Mills, Lydia, and Mr. Tuttle -- were downright spooky toward the end, when they walked silently toward the children and the house, side by side, unmoved by anything. Mills was brilliant the entire movie, evidently knowing more than she was letting on and yet not wanting to push things until Grace was ready for it all to come out.
We ended up renting the movie because we had a coupon for a free rental from Blockbuster, and my best friend had recommended the movie very highly back when it first came out on DVD. I love a good ghost story, and in a way, I'm sorry I waited so long to experience this one.