The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'The Others'
is a superior
horror film

August 16, 2001
By Franklin Harris

Much written and said about "The Others" revolves around The Divorce.

The film's executive producer, Tom Cruise, is divorcing its star, Nicole Kidman, making for a tense atmosphere at the film's premiere and constant gossip on that most loathsome of entertainment "news" programs, "Entertainment Tonight."

Nearly lost amid the din of scandal is the fact that "The Others" is a superior horror film — a welcome change from the seemingly endless parade of sophomoric slasher movies, in which brainless teens get their just rewards, usually at knifepoint.

(Not that I have anything against slasher films, per se, but only the Italians really do them well.)

Kidman plays Grace, a neurotic and overly protective mother who, along with her two young children, Anne and Nicholas (Alakina Mann and James Bentley), lives in a dark, morbid old house on an island off the English coast in 1945.

The darkness is intentional even if the morbidity isn't.

The children are allergic to light, Grace tells the new housekeeper. Anything brighter than a candle will cause them to break out in sores — or worse. So, every door is shut and every curtain drawn lest so much as a ray of sunlight gain entry.

To ward off her migraines, Grace demands silence, which makes every creaking door and upstairs footstep all the more menacing.

Meanwhile, Grace's husband is missing and presumed dead, a casualty of the war in Europe.

In most horror films, we expect to be afraid of the dark, but here light is the enemy. So, it's no coincidence that many of the most frightening scenes take place in daylight, such as when Grace first realizes that someone — or something — is in the house with them.

There is a wonderful irony about horror movie characters who are afraid of the light, but to explain why that is would be to give away the ending.

Leave it to a young Chilean director, Alejandro Amenábar, who also wrote the screenplay and composed the score, to construct a perfect English ghost story. It hearkens back to the works of Henry James and merits obvious comparisons to Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House."

Fortunately, "The Others" has far more in common with the first screen adaptation of Jackson's story, "The Haunting" (1963), than with Jan DeBont's garish, disastrous 1999 version.

There is no gore and only one or two scenes that might make one jump in fright. The horrors are all suggested, off camera and left to the imagination.

Amenábar sprinkles the creepy plot with plenty of twists and red herrings, but he does play fair. All of the clues seem obvious once the credits roll.

For her part, Kidman gives probably the best performance of her career, making her character sympathetic even as she flirts with insanity. It's a measured performance that keeps us guessing as to whether Grace has gone mad.

'Samurai Jack'

On a totally different front, the weekend saw the premiere of Cartoon Network's new animated series, "Samurai Jack," which has settled into its regular timeslot — Mondays at 7 p.m.

Created by Genndy Tartakovsky ("Dexter's Laboratory"), "Samurai Jack" seems at first to be an American animator's take on anime. But while it borrows from Japanese films, it takes more from the live-action movies of Akira Kurosawa ("The Seven Samurai") than from Japanese animation.

The series follows a samurai warrior (voiced by Phil LaMarr) and his battle against a shape-shifting demon called Aku (Mako).

As Jack is on the verge of defeating him, Aku casts a spell that sends Jack into the far future, where Aku has taken over the world and set his sights on the rest of the galaxy. Once again, it is up to Jack to defeat Aku, but now he has the entire world against him.

Tartakovsky created "Samurai Jack" as a reaction against action cartoons that seemed to him to be lacking real action. So, Jack goes from one fight to the next, using his enchanted sword to cut through Aku's robot minions.

Minutes can pass without dialog at all. Tartakovsky skillfully tells Jack's story through the actions and facial expressions of his characters.

The funniest scene in the pilot episode is wordless. It's just a long reaction shot as Jack is confronted with "talking demon dogs."

But the star here is the action, and Tartakovsky and his fellow animators have done a masterful job or choreographing each scene, especially given what appears to be a limited animation budget.

"Samurai Jack" is at least the best American-produced cartoon series since "Batman." And if the pilot is any indication, it may prove even better than that.

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