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The Other
(1972)
 

Director: Robert Mulligan   
Cast:
Uta Hagen, Diana Muldaur, Chris & Martin Uduarnoky


It is difficult to talk about The Other without revealing moments that are intended to surprise and throw twists upon its audience. I'm glad that I didn't look at any reviews for it before I watched it, because many of them reveal spoilers. Even the back of the video box reveals too much for its own good, so don't read it. What I can safely tell you that this is a very well done - well, I'm not actually quite sure how to put it. Though it has horror and thriller elements, it's neither a straight horror movie or a thriller. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to call it a disturbing movie. That's because not only is the movie disturbing while you are watching it, it actually becomes more disturbing after you've finished watching it. After the end, you think about everything that happened during the movie, and now knowing everything, many scenes now take on a deeper meaning and a new perspective. And we see everything that was happening was even more disturbing than we initially thought.

Set in 1935 on an farm deep in the countryside, the plot focuses on the young identical twin brothers Niles and Holland. Despite their identical looks, they are quite different in nature - Holland is more extroverted, brazen, and coarse in his tongue while Niles is quieter, more thoughtful, and somewhat less brave. Yet despite this, they are quite close, possibly due to the recent death of their father, their grieving mother seldom being able to leave their room, and their being lost in a large household of other relatives. One relative, their grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen), Niles is especially close to. She has taught him "The Game". It is not clear exactly what "The Game" is, but it seems to be some kind of psychic power that, among other things, allows the user to be able to see what is happening elsewhere at the same time. It is while playing "The Game" that Niles suddenly starts to see that various accidents happening in the area may not be accidents at all - and that his brother seems to have some connection to each of these "accidents".

Actually, it goes much, much deeper than that. Though I did more or less guess early on just what exactly was happening, I dismissed it not long afterwards because of some ingenious red herrings that are thrown in, so I was very surprised when what I ruled out actually did turn up to be the explanation. It was confusing at first, but then we shortly afterwards get some further explanation (brought up very well without stopping the story for a typical long-winded summation) that answers the lingering questions we have. What is very surprising is that there is still a good part of the movie yet to run. It's here that the movie reveals it still has some nasty surprises up its sleeves, by detailing just how deeply the implications of what we've learned actually are. There are no clues as to what is going to happen now, so we sit transfixed, waiting to find out. While we're watching, the movie slowly reveals piece by piece just how abnormal things are under the already uneasy surface. There's the feeling that soon the tension will break with a horrific climax, yet we keep watching.

There are a number of scenes with a similar feel, where everything starts off innocently, yet we know something something isn't right, and something bad is going to happen. It's a world where things just don't seem right, mostly with the feel, but also with little details, such as a character mentioning a 1944 movie despite it being 1935. The opening shot slowly pans a wooded area, then slowly zooms into the small figure of Niles - we're shown the outside of this world, then slowly brought in. Though we see familiar things - houses, barns, fields, etc. - there is an oddness to them, something seeming to be wrong though we can't put our finger on it. It's this unnatural feel that contributes greatly to the feeling of uneasiness, a feeling of impending dread that we feel. The Jerry Goldsmith score is creepy by itself, but wisely used sparingly; Robert Mulligan obviously knew that when a character steps into a spooky-looking room, it's more scary when we don't hear anything.

Not only does Mulligan give great direction when it comes to evoking a haunting atmosphere, but he throws in some impressive technical aspects as well. The scene with Niles seeing the world from the view of a flying crow really does seem to capture what it must be like. It's also impressive how from the start of the movie up to the first accident, he creates a seamless feel from one shot to another, even though it's obvious more time has passed than what we get to see. He also gets great performances from his cast. Hagen is great as the grandmother, who is wise and has a lot of love in her heart; she's the kind of grandmother everyone would have loved to have had. Both of the Uduarnoky brothers also give very convincing performances, making their characters children instead of miniature adults, with both the innocence and impulsive crudeness children can have at the same time. Some people may think that with John Ritter and Victor French (Highway To Heaven) in the cast, there would be some camp value, but both actors do a good job in their serious roles, though they don't get to do much.

There's not much more else I can say about this movie without spoiling some of its surprises. It's a movie that I can't properly justify because of that - you'll just have to trust me. Walking into an unfamiliar room is always more creepy than walking into one that's familiar, even if the lights are out. Among the little more I'll add is that this is one movie that will really stay with you after you've seen it. It's another of those movies where if you see it again, you'll see so many things in a different way that it almost becomes another movie. See it, think about it, but don't think too hard - you might find what you conclude just too disturbing to dwell on.

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See also: Clownhouse, Daddy's Girl, Shadow Dancing

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