In 2023, The Academy is still struggling to rock with horror in any major sense beyond a few lucky takers in titles like Misery (1990), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Get Out (2017), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991), but rarely does a film in the genre really take hold with the very traditional Academy voters (I mean shit, even Toni Colette got shut out for Hereditary (2018), a performance generally agreed to be one of, if not the best performance of 2018). Do you know who doesn’t have a problem with horror? The Goya Awards, the Spanish equivalent to the American Oscars, in which The Others (2001), a film with not a single word of Spanish is spoken, garnered 15 nominations and eight wins from the awards body, including Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Film. For a film that is entirely in English, that takes place in England, and features an almost exclusively British/Irish cast (aside from the Australian Nicole Kidman), The Others is by all technicalities a Spanish film, funded by Spanish financiers and directed by the Spanish Alejandro Amenábar (While at War), and thus, due to its massive box-office success in the English-speaking world, as well as just by merit of being a damned good film, qualified for and subsequently cleaned house (with the major exception being for Best Actress for Kidman, which she lost to Pilar López de Ayala for Mad Love) at the Goyas. Now, 22 years after its theatrical bow, Amenábar’s atmospheric period horror film is re-granted a home release, this time bypassing the murky waters of wherever the rights would’ve ended up at following the dissolution of The Weinstein Company (I believe this one would fall into Lionsgate’s hands stateside if I’m correct, much like The Mist (2007)), and going straight into The Criterion Collection in a new deluxe release.
The Others is featured with a new release with Criterion on Blu-ray and as a 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray combo pack, featuring a new 4K restoration seen for the first time. The Dolby Atmos audio track, as well as all special features, are featured in full across both the 4K and standard Blu-ray releases. For this review, we were provided a copy of the standard Blu-ray release.
1945, the island of Jersey. World War II has now ended, and the Channel Island has finally been liberated of Nazi occupation after five brutal years. Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman) is a young mother of two, awaiting the return of her missing husband, lost to the mysteries of war, in a grandiose estate in the Jersey countryside. Grace’s children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), suffer from a rare disorder in which direct sunlight results in a harsh breakout of sores and blisters, resulting in the home being in complete darkness at all hours of the day. Upon bringing on new help around the house, including nanny Ms. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), groundskeeper Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) and mute housemaid Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), Grace begins to notice signs of an intruder within the house’s walls, and, as the instances of such become more bizarre, she becomes convinced that there might be a supernatural entity lurking within her peaceful, if broken, home.
It’s almost difficult to call The Others a horror film, per se, as it’s focused on the dramatic elements at the story’s center far more than it is with frightening the audience with sequences of terror. The beauty comes not in jolts, but in slow, atmospheric blankets of unease that cover the audience in a cozy, but troubled, quilt of despair. I’d nearly argue in favor of it being called a “supernatural drama” over anything else, but as the credits roll on the film, the feeling of mystical dread that washes over you, that stays with you, makes its case for not only it being a true horror film, but a damned fine one at that. The journey of narrative contortion that Amenábar takes audiences on is one more engrossing and nerve-shredding than any cheap jumpscare ever could be, and the legendary finale to the film only proves that every single decision made from the first moment of the film to the very last was meticulously conceived. There was no “winging it” with The Others.
Criterion’s new 4K remaster comes direct from StudioCanal under the supervision of Amenábar, and is presented on the standard Blu-ray in 1080 p and on the 4K release in 2160 p, albeit with no HDR of any kind. Even on the standard Blu-ray, this release is a visual delight, relishing in the richness of the film’s 35 mm image, and featuring one of the best cases for maintaining natural film grain of any film of its era I’ve seen before. So many times studios insist on scrubbing a film image clean of any “imperfections” to make the image as shiny and sleek as possible, and, while this works for films that seek this look (think of something shot by Roger Deakins à la Blade Runner 2049 (2017) or Skyfall (2012)), the richness on display here gives The Others such a cozy, autumnal ambience that cannot be matched. Perhaps even more impressive is the color grading which finds life and depth in a film that, to the untrained eye, could be considered “washed out” in the wrong hands, but with Amenábar’s assistance, has a great dynamic depth that compliments the narrative with a misty, dreamlike quality, and a sumptuous visual playground of unreal production design, bathed in bleached sunlight and cavernous shadows.
The Dolby Atmos track included is also no slouch either, though in a much more reserved manner. In a sense, it’s also a testament to the beauty that can happen when some restraint is exercised in creating something “bigger,” as opposed to simply improving upon what is already there. This isn’t a bombastic film in the slightest, and mostly takes up the front channels of the audio space, but the few times that the film utilizes the Atmos channels for atmospherics, it’s incredibly effective. There’s one scene in particular where Grace hears footsteps upstairs that utilizes the height channels spectacularly. Beyond that, it’s a clear, no nonsense, incredibly well-preserved audio track filled in wonderfully with a fanciful musical score, ironically also done by Amenábar himself.
There are quite a few new special features included with this Criterion release, and most impressive are the newly produced retrospectives from Criterion themselves with much of the cast and crew ruminating on how The Others continues to affect them even two decades after being a part of it. So often I find that studios lose out on the magic that comes in retrospective supplemental content, and third party distributors like Criterion, Shout! Studios, and Arrow Video (among others) really understand that those who care enough to purchase a physical release of a film like this foam at the mouth for features such as this. The full spectrum of special features include (italicized = new):
- Retrospective Audio Commentary from Alejandro Amenábar (in Spanish, subtitled)
- New conversation between Amenábar and film critic Pau Gómez.
- New making-of program featuring Amenábar, actors Nicole Kidman and Christopher Eccleston, and producer Fernando Bovaira.
- “The Making of The Others” featurette
- “On the Set” featurette
- “Art Direction” featurette
- “Visual Effects” featurette
- “Recording the Soundtrack” featurette
- “Photographing the Dead” featurette
- “Audition Footage” featurette
- Deleted Scenes
- Theatrical Trailer
- Essay from film critic Philip Horne
Note: All special features are included only on the standard Blu-ray disc. The only special feature available on the 4K disc is that of the audio commentary from Amenábar.
Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others is perhaps one of the best “atmospheric” horror films of the 21st century, greatly imbuing the same vibe that films such as Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963), Jack Clayton’s The Innocents (1961), Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), and Lewis Allen’s The Uninvited (1944), films of a bygone era that utilize unsettling narrative elements over overt horror, that leave a quiet but deeply uneasy feeling in the air once the credits roll. The Others takes it a step further and injects one of the most well-thought plot twists into the equation and takes things to another level entirely. Criterion’s new Blu-ray releases for The Others are wondrous parallels to the film’s artistic restraint with A/V transfers that find its beauty in their subtleties. They aren’t TV sellers that Best Buy will play on their 90-inch, $10,000 demo televisions, but rather enhance an already succulently made film into its best self. With the many new special features, as well as the retention of the former Miramax ones, there really isn’t a much better way to experience The Others short of finding a 35 mm print of it in the wild.
Available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection October 24th, 2023.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.