That is the fundamental theorem of the majority of genre studies. The audience’s expectations are met within genre films due to familiar elements being fused together, enhanced and manipulated to create something new and different. Despite ‘genre’ being the correct term for classifying a certain film it is primarily used by film critics, historians and theorists, generally audiences don’t tend to refer to this word, instead they are just aware that they are drawn to specific types of films.
It is useful to group films into categories of genre, which is defined as a style of art or literature, as there are so many released into the UK every year. This then allows there to be contrasts and comparisons extracted from films that are within the same group. Or, on the other hand, it is made possible to analyse a film when compared to different groups, this has a fair few benefits, one being that attempting to decide the criteria for grouping films encourages us to study them closely.
When referring to ‘The Others’ and its genre it is quite difficult, as the essential nature of the ghost story does appear to have evolved in one respect. The most striking aspect of ‘The Others’ for example, is the absence of evil. Here the main factor of the film seems to be that ghosts are good, mortals not so good. The reason ‘The Others’ is particularly hard to class as a genre on occasions is the way in which Amenabar adapts characteristics of both a thriller and horror film. As ‘The Others’ is a film brought to audiences within a new age it is a part of the modern ghost story that entails diverse concepts in referral to its content.
It appears to be the case that such a thing is as much about longing as it is dread. It is an amusing thought to think that we, as an allegedly post-religious age are flocking, as audiences, to see films which are explicitly claiming that there is life after death and so on. The director purposely defies the elements of a regular ghost story whilst sticking to some of the expectations of a regular ghost story. Amenabar explains the uncanny occurrences he creates in a highly ingenious way, refusing to ‘give the game away’ as such until the very end.
Because of this and the director’s subtle hints throughout the film, ‘The Others’ is suave rather than shocking. ‘Genre’ is a concept that is growing increasingly important in a new age society that finds it more of a necessity to analyse everything, whether it be critically or positively. As it is a term growing more and more familiar amongst people other than film and media students, it has potential to be a great critical tool as its accessibility as a concept means it can be applied across a wide range of films.
Genre classification relies on a number of things to sway the grouping of a film. In ‘horror’, ‘ghost’ and ‘thriller’ films for example, they tend to have the key elements such as a haunted house, death and revolve heavily around superstition and the supernatural, such as ghosts. Ghosts are defined as the soul or spectre of a dead person. The concept of ghosts is based upon the ancient notion that a human spirit is separable from the body and may continue to exist despite the body being dead.
Places which are said to be haunted, are believed to be where distinctively formidable tragedies have occurred, and individuals who are allegedly inhabited by sprits are claimed, by experts, to be responsible in some way for, or associated with, the ghost’s unhappy past experience. ‘Iconography’ is another term used when studying the genre of a film. The appellation is derived from religion and refers to a classification of paintings based upon common images or icons; this obviously is relevant to film studies as films contain both visual and ‘sound images’.
Some of the first film genres to be identified and studied shared immediately recognisable iconic images, in a distinctive horror or ghost story a central one of these tends to be connected to costume (old-fashioned – long hoods and hats, ripped and torn, drab and dark colours); music (eerie, high pitched, menacing and varying in tempos); lighting, (dim, dusky, mist, fog, candlelight and shadows); and setting, which tends to be empty, bare, ancient, remote, isolated, revolving sometimes around either a basement or graveyard.
In relation to film and media studies, it is all well analysing elements of films to classify them as a genre, but studying the audience response to different films is quite another study. It is a fact that we as the viewer go to watch a film in search of sensation, an immediate emotional response. The feelings aroused by certain genre films are extremely stimulating, whether it be the adrenaline-rush of an action film, suspense of a thriller or the release of laughter in a comedy, we enjoy what we like to experience the most.
It is even claimed by critics that in extreme cases of horror and pornographic films that the audience take delight in viewing these films as their deepest fears and, perhaps, their desires are being played out on actors’ bodies. Filmmakers and advertisers are constantly aware of the target audience and all have a ‘mode of address’ – the way it speaks to a particular target audience.
Once research is done to support assumptions of who the film may or may not appeal to, the film and its media associates begin their masses of persuasive promotions to draw in a particular age group through music, clothes, language etc distinct in a particular generation. This is crucial for the success of the film. Genre ideas have evolved considerably throughout decades, in the seventy years since the first ‘horror’ films surfaced it is blatantly obvious that the concept of the horror film has been greatly adjusted.
Instead of long cycles, Hollywood genres tend to proceed in a shorter series of cycles of films within only a few years that are more consciously constructed. Cycles of films are triggered by series of events in the real world, a development of technology or by a change in the audience’s visual appetite. Horror films made a habit of emerging in distinct cycles and continued to follow this pattern until the mid-90s, after they were approved, and suddenly horror films became ‘legitimate’ at the start of the 70s.
The legion of horror films is endless. This has more recently changed, though, as we see in films such as ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘The Others’. The whole concept of a ghost story has become much more about cleverly manipulating the general expectations of horror films and working an ingenious twist throughout the plot, whilst using exposition to create great mental angst for the viewer. Incidentally, the ghost genre has probably flourished more on Japanese soil than anywhere else.
In fact, it is probably indicative that the ghost story picture in Europe or this country more often serves as the vehicle for comedy rather than horror – this is evident in the many films which have actually bee produced in the continent. The author of a ghost story can of course afford to merely suggest phantoms, but audiences want a more tangible embodiment of their deepest fears. Amnebar, director of ‘The Others’ therefore deserves praise on his inventive interpretation of a modern horror film.
The great advantage of the cinema is undoubtedly the huge area of darkness one gets on the screen, for a horror director this is the perfect atmosphere for one to view a fabulously scary film where the vast shadows produced allow the audience to imagine the worst. Similar to fairy stories, ghost stories, it seems, must always follow familiar structures and rhythms. The real reason these old favourite techniques still never fail to work is of course that no matter how technology advances and spiritually bereft our age may be, there is still a part of us all that is secretly afraid of the dark at the top of the stairs.
In us all also is the pleasure we receive from films that focus our attention to the familiar without impairing it. It has been argued that modern horror films, however, are too reliant on these common components and are therefore ‘saturated’ genres, as the audience is over-familiar with the repertoire of elements and all their possible deviations. Cleverly though, instead of abandoning the authentic factors of the ‘horror’ genre, producers have recently over played its conventions in order to embrace a new age of audience.
Whilst audiences have been re-generated over decades of cinema they are still very much experiencing a similar roller coaster ride in terms of the feelings aroused by horror films. The difference, however, is that whilst the audience are willing participants they only think they know what to expect – thrilling them even more. This is true in ‘The Others’ – a perfect film for a modern audience. With a discerning twist of originality, assumptions may not always be true and expectations will certainly be defied.
To purposely initiate the sense of ‘The Others’ being a pure ghost story so to speak, the producer seems to open the film with a sequence of thin pencil line drawings in order of not only initiating the genre of the film, but, the era of the film. These etchings are blatantly a direct link to Victorian times as they are reminiscent of what one may expect a novel to include of that era.
The black and ivory pencil lines serve a deeper significance even more so as they, in actuality, provide clues as to the main narrative thread of the story, depicting an insight into the key scenes of the film (and a very stereotypical one at that. Another factor of this film that indicates that the director is attempting to produce a film from the very roots of the ‘horror’ genre is that the film relies heavily upon narrative rather than special effects. This is of course another attempt by Amenabar to defy the plot of films that have been recently released, and to increase the probability of ‘The Others’ being contrasted to the likes of the classics, ‘Dracula’ and ‘Frankenstein’ rather than ‘Scream’.
Amenabar’s aim is to delight in psychologically thrilling his audience rather than relishing the fact that he has overloaded them visually with excessive gore, deranged slashers or ludicrously lavish special effects and so he strives to make this clear. Soon after an etching of an isolated mansion slowly transforms itself into a looming camera shot of a real, stereotypically secluded residence, the audience are unnerved by an unexpected and carefully edited shrill scream – the movie holds the audience in its clutches from this very opening moment.
This is of course an extreme comparison to the mellow, child-like composition that previously accompanies the series of pencil drawings; Amenabar is immediately successful in making the audience uneasy with the use of juxtaposing sounds. And so he continues to do this as the support from music and a fusion of mysterious noises assist in the separation of prolonged silence, re-asserting the audience’s suspense, with the constant creaking of doors and the impending doom represented within every sequence of heavy footsteps.
Heavy monotones and high-pitched eerie chords establish gloom and tension whilst cranking up the brooding menace and creating a moody and deeply atmospheric tone, they work in sheer harmony with the careful camera cuts. The camera invites us directly into the film set – just like a friend, it seems. The camera is an ambassador of the director and his intentions, as it appears to act as the audience’s eye, willing them to observe everything and anything for this story, is one that requires an attentive and inquisitive viewer.
In contrast to this though, the way in which the camera flows and sweeps up and down, situating us centrally within the house rather than as voyeurs, disorientates the audience as a whole, almost to the extent that we completely empathise with Grace’s confusion. This is perhaps another message from the producer, suggesting to us that we mustn’t begin gathering conclusions yet. Credited for Amenabar’s outstanding cinematography is Javier Aguirresarobe; he films his characters as if he is doing so internally.
Grace’s psychological state is constantly being reflected through a range of camera shots, this idea of barriers that we constantly see Nicole Kidman’s character being seemingly crushed and trapped by: in cells, doorways, through windowpanes, between curtains, through stairway banisters, behind grated gates – she is imprisoned in her own mind. Each physical obstruction is laden in deeper meaning we learn, as the film progresses, and Grace diminishes emotionally. The subtlety of Amenabar’s cinematography is what detaches ‘The Others’ from the recent Hollywood movie-making trends.
The fact that the producer has opted to use old-fashioned methods of scaring the audience has allowed this film to be one of the few understated horror films. Shock effects are used sparingly but effectively; demonstrating that Amenabar has gone for the pervasive, enfeeble unshakeable creepiness that saturates the film. Also done in an old-fashioned manner are the scene changes as fade-outs and slow dissolves are used to mirror the manner of movies of an earlier era.
It achieves a rare and genuine air of menace that gradually builds an atmosphere of unease, without the ostentation of modern, flashy technology and therefore this film is one that manages to be imaginative and original. Carefully calculated freeze shots of the obscured old house are occasionally slotted in between scenes as a reminder of the sheer size and location of this fundamental factor of the film. Stereotypically, it is situated on a fog-shrouded island – antiquated and alone, the premise looks forgotten as it sits in the 1940s setting.
This period is of course typical to the creepy horror that the producer mimicked at the beginning of the film, immediately the audience is given a rich sense of history and tradition as this is infused within the motionless camera shots. The stately, cavernous old mansion is engulfed in an atmosphere of gloom and fog in the isolation of England’s Jersey Islands, just after World War two; a great anticipation of supernatural menace is eminently present.
The fact that the connection between the house and its surroundings has been severed is a daunting thought to the audience and later we learn the deeper significance of this dramatic detachment. As the audience begin to relate this to the children’s medical condition, (where they are prevented from embracing the outside world), Grace’s relationship with her husband and, then, eventually, the conclusion of the film.
We learn through expertly filmed shots that the house is large enough to contain the whole film, with the camera setting this perspective, the audience also gain an extreme sense of claustrophobia that is worked upon throughout the film. Amenabar wants us to feel cribbed, cabined and confined just like Grace, to make us empathise with her distress. Although the house is personified and justified as an actual character within the film it is in fact the actors within and around the house that establish the milieu of the premise.
What is amazing is the actual insignificance of the central characters in comparison to the mansion, however, that is ultimately the only stable thing within the film. A factor of the house, which works particularly well in conjunction with certain characters, is the stairs – probably the most symbolic aspect of the restricted setting, they not only separate the different levels of the house but also ultimately segregate the world of the living and the dead, ‘the others’.
Another example of this is where Ann is at the top of the stairs – this is a symbolic reference to her and her family’s position in limbo, this also relates back to one of the main themes running throughout the film, religion. All this is what allows the stairs to be the beholder of the audience’s mystery and intrigue as they contemplate what is at the top of them.
In coincidence with the simplistic twines of Amenabar’s ‘The Others’, he again uses this tone in the sense that he opts for furnishing the large rooms of the mansion barely and sparsely. Instead of relying on effects or elegant locations, the director again excels his elf in originality as he pares the entire setting down to its bare bones. Again, this is another link back to gothic traditions as he reminds us just how unsettling a long, dark corridor or a room full of furniture can be.