Synopsis: The Other (1972), directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird) and adapted by Tom Tryon from his own best-selling novel, is a psychological horror film set in Depression-era New England about a pair of young twins (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) who find themselves at the center of a series of ghastly accidents that may not be so accidental, after all. Shot by the extraordinary Robert Surtees (Ben-Hur), and featuring a score by the superb Jerry Goldsmith.
The Other 6.75
eyelights: the core concept. the setting.
eyesores: the execution. the performances.
“He’s bad. He’ll never go to heaven!”
‘The Other’ is a 1972 horror film based on the novel by Tom Tryon (who also wrote the screenplay). Set in the mid-’30s, on a family farm in New England, it tells the story of twin brothers Niles and Holland. Niles is a sweet boy; he is adored by his whole family and most of the neighbours. He plays around on the farm with Holland, who is more mischievous and causes grief for both his brother and his mother.
It all seems relatively idyllic, except that the household (which includes an aunt and uncle, a cousin and his pregnant wife, and some paid help) is haunted by incidents that have caused the mother to hide indoors, traumatized: Niles and Holland’s father, for one, has recently died in a freak accident. And then there is the small matter of what took place in the well, which has been boarded up.
It’s only the beginning: Before the end of the picture, many more accidents will taint the farm.
Niles and Holland aren’t ordinary boys. Under the tutelage of their Russian grandmother, they have been taught to develop a form of telepathy that permits them to enter the consciousness of other beings and live their experiences through their senses. They call it “playing the game”, and they are quite skilled at it. Niles, in particular, is so adept that he can fly with the birds or read an unborn child’s gender.
But there’s more. Holland has a mean streak. The first sign of this is when he and Niles are in the barn and Holland takes out their pet rat and kills it. Niles is troubled by this but doesn’t really confront Holland about it; he only expresses his shock but keeps his concerns to himself. Within no time at all, Holland is out of control, acting up the moment that he feels slighted by someone. And Niles can’t stop him.
In some ways it made me think of ‘The Bad Seed’. With twins.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
What makes ‘The Other’ interesting isthatit’s quite clear from the onset that Holland iseithera figment of Niles’ imagination or he’s a ghost. Even thoughtheywere playedbyactual twins, they are never shown together in the frame, leaving us to assume that they aren’t actually occupying space together. This makes it difficult toknowwhich is which, butit’s not entirely impossible. And, if one assumes it’s in Niles’ mind, it doesn’t matter.
What’s creepy is the notion that either there’s a ghost haunting the farm who can actually affect its environment and harm people, or that Niles is so psychotic that he’s invented this brother of his and is acting out through him. The fact remains that the brother was real: the rest of the family refer to him from time to time. So it’s possible that Niles is filling the void of his absence himself and is unable to tell the difference.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
Although most of the surprises in ‘The Other’ seem fairly obvious it’s delivered in a relatively efficient manner: we aren’t told anything that don’t need to know until the appropriate time and director Mulligan keeps his cards close enough to his chest throughout, leaving us guessing about the specifics of the story. Unfortunately, he also misfires with his scares, white-washing them to the point of impotency; this could have been a TV movie.
The dialogues and cast didn’t help matters much. Some of the lines were so hokey that I could barely wrap my head around the notion that the novelist adapted the material himself. And the cast was mostly of that old school variety that makes every dialogue theatrical (particularly horrible were Portia Nelson and Diana Muldaur… ugh), making it utterly impossible for us to believe them and immerse ourselves in the picture.
I would have liked to enjoy ‘The Other’ more. I like the title, the concept, and the setting, but its execution leaves something to be desired. The telepathy aspect of the plot I could do without, but otherwise this is a story that could benefit from a remake with a stellar cast and production budget. Unfortunately, as it stands, ‘The Other’ is nothing more than a sleepy Sunday afternoon picture or a late-night throwaway.
For now, I’ll stick with ‘The Bad Seed’, thank you very much.
Date of viewing: September 14, 2014