When The Others premiered 20 years ago, I was but a mere 12 years of age and, admittedly, not one who got out to the theater as often as I would have liked. The bulk of my horror-watching experience was garnered during tittering slumber parties where my friends and I delighted in sneaking salacious titles such as The Blair Witch 2: The Book of Shadows and Joy Ride. As you can tell by this fare, I needed my horror to be buried under a layer of satire and camp in order to sleep at night. If I would have watched The Others in 2001, I would have been secretly terrified...but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you why. Publicly, among friends, I would have agreed that the film was boring and lengthy because The Others wasn’t made for 12 year-olds. And looking back, now having seen it, I don’t think The Others was made for 2001 either.
In my memory, The Others exists primarily as spoof fodder. Nobody can forget its lampooning in 2003’s Scary Movie 3: as the infamous “I am your daughter” scene was used as a vehicle to poke fun at allegations against Michael Jackson while also alluding to the fact that Jackson himself was an alien. Knowledge of that particular scene (the actual scene from The Others and not Scary Movie 3) was all I had from which to base my opinion, and from that alone, I was convinced The Others was terrifying. Also, from what I remember of trailers and commercials during that time period, it seems that was what the studio was attempting to sell: a frightening period piece about body morphing and horrifying haunts. So I was pleasantly surprised to find The Others had a lot more to say.
Without delving too specifically into details, The Others was far ahead of its time when it comes to thematic layers of trauma and grief. I remember there was a general consensus of approval of the film upon its release, but I really don’t remember anyone having much to say about what the film spoke to. Perhaps it’s because I was a child at the time, but it seemed that during that time period, horror films were considered to be successful if they were scary in the traditional sense, and the general population didn’t really want their horror films to actually make them sad. Scares good, feelings bad. The Others doesn’t offer up many scares in the traditional “boo” sense, leaning far more into the ideas of what tangible scares are: death, grief, abandonment, war, mental illness, and generational and regional trauma.
To that effect, I’m blown away by how little I had heard about this film while I was growing up and learning to appreciate horror films, and I’m saddened to think of how poorly advertised it was. In reality, however, if it were advertised as what it actually is, I don’t think people would have flocked to the theater to see it. The advertisements seemed to brainwash moviegoers into thinking they were indeed seeing a horror film, where in reality, I watched a period-drama about a war-torn family and region that was highlighted poignantly by spirits and the macabre. I feel as if I live in a different reality than the one that had existed in the early 2000s. I now wonder how many other films of years past I’ve been led to believe are one thing, are actually something completely different.
Recently watching The Others, I was also able to ret-con my newly formed belief that Nicole Kidman is a bad actress, which just isn’t true. The two most recent Nicole Kidman projects I’ve watched are The Undoing and Big Little Lies, both of which feature David E. Kelley characters that just aren’t that great...which has warped my opinion of Kidman herself. (I might be a masochist because I’m still intrigued by Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers...but that’s an essay for a different time.) Watching The Others reminded me just how brilliantly Kidman can control a scene, and it’s a good thing because she’s in nearly every single one of ‘em. It might as well be called Nicole Kidman and the Others. She’s an absolute delight to watch, and despite some of the plot remaining somewhat flimsy, her performance tethers you to the reality of the world. An additional bonus is her coupling with a pre-med Christopher Eccleston (prior to his rise to stardom in 2005’s Doctor Who reboot). Not to say the supporting cast isn’t also captivating to varying degrees, but this truly is Kidman’s film.
If you haven’t yet seen The Others (and were living under that lonely rock with me), I’d encourage you to give it a try. In the current world of Hereditarys and The Lighthouses et al, The Others would fit right in. And if you have seen it, perhaps it’s time to revisit the isle of Jersey. It’s quiet there, and a bit too contemplative, but the fog is nice and it can give you the time to remember how lucky you are to have the means of communication with the world, and others, around you. Come for the morbid tale of isolation, stick around for the stunning set design. This isn’t The Others I remember, nor the one I thought I was being sold, but I’m happy to keep it.
Are you mad? This is your movie.
Bernadette graduated from DePauw University in 2011 with a Film Studies degree she’s not currently using. She constantly consumes television, film, and all things pop culture and will never be full. She doesn’t tweet much, but give her a follow @BeaGorman and see if that changes.