Friday, September 5, 2008

THE OTHERS (Alejandro Amenábar, 2001, Spain) A gothic ghost story whose ethereal structure crumbles under the weight of flesh and bone. The concept is intriguing but director Alejandro Amenábar relies on style over substance and visceral shock over sublime characterization. The “surprise” ending is meant to shed light upon the protagonists suffering but instead offers a dimly lit nihilistic melodrama with no true purpose or closure. The suspense lies not with the final revelation to the audience (because we guessed it 15 minutes into the film) but in the family drama and their conflict with perceived reality: Hitchcock understood that suspense is generated when we (the audience) are given information that is withheld from the characters. Grace Stewart is such an unlikable woman that it is difficult to empathize with her plight throughout most of the film. The three servants serve no purpose except for exposition; the story still works without their haunting presence. I believe their few inclusive narrative shifts diminish the film’s rhythm and expose too much information: if you didn’t guess the twist by that point you’re not paying attention! The few long shots that establish the lonely mansion, shrouded in fog like a forgotten mausoleum, lose their effectiveness because they are not joined to the conflict: unlike Jackson’s Hill House or Matheson’s Belasco House, the building fails to become a dreaded companion in the mystery. Technically engaging, Amenábar’s chiaroscuro lighting is a dark metaphor concerning Grace’s contradictory emotional qualities that hearkens her madness. The frightening séance that becomes the vinculum of two overlapping worlds should have been the rest at piece de resistance: instead the ghostly characters continue their gossamer existence, the children’s forgiveness meaningless. (C)

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