The Others
dir. Alejandro Amenabar
Opens Fri Aug 10 at the Metro, Pacific Place.

Gothic horror hasn't fared too well in the digital age, but Alejandro Amenabar's The Others is a welcome departure. The film is suffused with a fragile equilibrium; the near-erotic fixation of the main character on controlling her environment--in this case, a faded, fog-bound mansion on an otherwise deserted British isle--simply begs to be violated, like an egg with no shell held together by a membrane. Amenabar makes us wait for it, yearn for it even, as the film drips like saline toward its gruesome revelations.

That main character is Grace (Nicole Kidman, imperiously restrained and crazy as a wet cat), who spends her days waiting for her husband to return from WWII--which has ended--by attending to the Catholic education of her two pasty children. She smothers them with scripture and morality while keeping them cloistered from the outside world. While training a trio of new servants (the old ones have mysteriously disappeared), Grace announces that the kids are "photosensitive": any exposure to sunlight and they will break out in sores and blisters before a horrible death. Therefore, all curtains must remain drawn at all times, and each of the house's 40 doors must be locked before the next is opened.

With these restrictive guidelines established, we embark on a remarkably effective psychological ghost story that builds to a climax both inevitable and surprising. Amenabar's obvious inspiration is Turn of the Screw. But absent Henry James' social agenda to unmask the perils of Victorian prudishness, The Others is free to bask in artfully misleading metaphors--Catholicism as confinement, sunlight a wolf scratching at the windows. And though the blank narrative slate is soon blackened by dread (and absolutely gorgeous, muted cinematography), the film's terror is left largely to the viewer's imagination, the scariest landscape of all.

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