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Saturday, October 31, 2009

20 The Other


The Other (1972)
***1/2
Dir. Robert Mulligan
Fright Level: 3/10
Scare Type: Slow Burn

Ah, what polite tag-line, "please don't reveal the secret..." Thomas Tryon, actor turned writer, produced this film and adapted his own classic horror novel for the screen. Robert Mulligan, most famous for his adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird, directed. Not surprisingly this is a very faithful adaptation.

The story concerns twin brothers Holland and Niles Perry, and their attempt to hold onto a dark secret after the death of their father. Telling you any more wouldn't be polite...

In some strange way this could be a companion piece to Mulligan's To Kill a Mockingbird, which had a small element of horror in the Halloween scene. Mockingbird was childhood innocence exposed to injustice, learning about a father figure via others, and much of the narratological power of comes from the ironic (philosophically speaking) gap between the experience of the child and the cruel reality. The Other is also about learning about a father through others, and Mulligan treats his scenes like a breezy childhood memoir; the early scenes feel like an episode of Little House on the Prairie at times. But this is about a child who is coming to terms with cosmic injustice, who is already familiar with unspeakable pain and cruelty, and the irony and horror comes from the inability of the adult characters to see that. The film, likewise, and at times to the expense of creating fright, follows the disparity, by formally acting like a straightforward coming of age story, as the events slowly become more and more disturbing.

This is a classic "slow-burn" though the novel is far more unsettling and frightening in large part because its so difficult to translate interior monologues into film. But this film is equally as disturbing and memorable. There are two casting decisions I think were mistakes. The first is in the all important roles of the Twins. Tryon wanted to go one way, Mulligan went another. I think either were valid ideas but then again I'm not sure any child could adequately give justice to the roles. The character of Holland isn't a creepy child, and thankfully he's not cast as such, as it seemed that after The Omen the de-facto way of communicating that a child was to be feared was by making them distant and pale, but rather one who's trying to work through an impossible psychological trauma by himself and instead coming up with a very twisted but motivated view of morality. Perhaps its a good thing though, that such a child with experience couldn't be found to cast? And the other is Uta Hagen, who was a great actress, but doesn't work in this role, she seems too out of place, and even though her character is out of place in the novel, she seems to exoticise things too much.

This isn't a scary film, but formally its about as good as they come.

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