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Film director Alejandro Amenabar wanted to leave the imagination to create the real horror of his film the others instead of using digital effect cinematography. But instead he uses sounds and light (or absence of light) to create a sense of unease in his films. To create the unsettled atmosphere Amenabar uses a number of cinematographic ideas that are very effective in creating a feeling of unsettlement.
Examples are that he uses light and sound to inhibit viewers’ key senses. He uses our own childhood fears to make us feel frightened. He uses the fears of being alone to create disorder and panic by making characters feel vulnerable.
He also uses our imaginations to his advantage by associating characters with other people, the old woman acting as the nanny wears dark clothes thus visualises a witch, therefore he has realised another of our childhood fears (fairytale witches and monsters).
Amenabar uses the most prominent of our childhood fears and a fear many adults still withhold, our fear of the dark; with the curtains in the house all drawn the characters are plunged into darkness, making an absence of light a good way to bring horror to the film as by restricting the sense of sight a viewers imagination can only think about what the darkness could be covering.
This is his idea of how to make a good film ‘the essence of real horror is leaving something for the imagination.
‘ The second most key fear Amenabar uses against us is fear of what we don’t understand (paranormal ghosts). In the film the world of the living and the world of the dead seem to be crossed over, so that the inhabitants of the house can see what they believe to be ghosts and the ghost can see them. In most films the opening sequence shows the viewer the genre of the film.
Often it can also give an idea of what is going to happen in the film or what the characters are like. The others’ is no different the opening shows certain traits the film includes. The opening shows the viewer the religious theme of the film by starting with the sound of children reading the creation story from the bible this has the effect of warning a potential viewer that the film has a prominent religious them. In the opening sequence there is a show of different pictures most of pain and suffering. The sequence of pictures and strange music all show the signs of a horror movie.
The hand that is almost made of mist opening a door in the pictures shows that there is someone there who isn’t normal, it makes a point of the living and the dead occupying the same space. The broken doll shows that there is something dangerous or evil involved in the film, this again shows the genre of the film to be horror. The pictures of the two children screaming and being really frightened show the viewer that the film is about being scared and suffering. It also shows that the film is dark as there is not much or no light; this is portrayed by the use of candles and oil lamps in the opening sequence.
For Amenabar to create an unsettling atmosphere he uses setting to make us feel uneasy this is achieved almost immediately with an establishing shot of the outside of the house in which the film is completely centred on. The large Victorian mansion house which in enveloped in thick mist, gives a feeling of isolation as well as making us feel uneasy this is also achieved because the house looks like one that would be in a children’s story book about ghosts. The rustic wooden beams and derelict looking features making the house seam very strange. To the viewer this establishing shot shows the films genre as a horror movie.
This is due to an old gothic style mansion surrounded by mist is a very prominent object to appear in a horror film. The horror genre is again confirmed by the inside of the house. The wooden floors, Absence of light, locked doors and long staircases have all added to the anxiety the viewer feels about the film. The reason that they add anxiety is that they all restrict a sense in some way, the absence of light restricts sight, the locked doors restrict sight and ability to hear well and clearly and the wooded floors restrict the viewer’s ability to hear something in the silences as whenever a character moves the floors creak and crack.
As director Amenabar decided to use light as a way of making a viewer feel scared or have a feeling of uncertainty of what is going on. He uses light or an absence of it to easily create a tense atmosphere which a viewer watching can even catch. Due to the main character Grace fearing that her children are photosensitive she keeps all the curtains in the house drawn and makes sure that all the light is kept to a minimum. This means that the restriction of light and sense of sight can be controlled and kept low but there is a good reason for it to be like this.
Due to there being a reason for low levels of light a viewer finds it easier to feel scared and be submersed into the film without needing to wonder why it is so dark, the candlelight and lamps also cast eerie shadows which make the atmosphere tense. The expressionist lighting techniques that Amenabar uses, makes the items in rooms seem obscure and add to the ambience of the rooms and make them feel oppressive. In all movies sound plays a key role in creating a required effect and portraying feeling or emotions of the characters involved. The music in the film contributes to the ambience and feeling of unease.
A good example of sound being used to this effect is the scene where Grace is outside the music room with the piano playing. The music slows down and plays in the form of a heartbeat. This is due to it being uniformed and accented every second or two. When Grace moves towards the music room door the music speeds up to show her heart racing and to portray her fear. Grace being near the music room is also a good example of Amenabars’ use of diagetic sound. He uses the sound of the piano in the background but over this he amplifies Graces heavy breathing as she opens the door.
This makes a viewer more scared as the louder breathing shows the viewer that grace is scared and therefore makes the viewer feel frightened. A key purpose of sound in film is for it not to exist, silence in a film is almost as key to create suspense and unease as sound is. Silence in the film is used to create a sense of vulnerability for Grace as when there is no sound that means that there is no one to help Grace should there be trouble. This makes a viewer feel vulnerable and isolated; it also shows Grace to have a problem coping mentally due to her being scared of silence.
The film makes use of a variety of camera techniques and cinematographic angles and movements. The main camera work is normally control by where Grace is in a room. The angles of a camera can create horror as depending on the angle or view of the camera. A viewer can see a threat when a character can’t or can’t see a threat when a character is screaming or running. There limiting of what a viewer sees by camera techniques and also maximising what a viewer sees by using long shots can make a viewer feel isolated or to give a viewer a false sense of security before something key in the film happens.
Another aspect of camerawork is the uses of camera movement, as a sudden zoom in on something is more effective to show a frightening thing like no one playing on the piano in the music room. The director didn’t use sudden zoom on the piano instead he used a slow pan across the music room ending on the piano to emphasise that there was definitely no one in the music room and the piano was playing all by itself. The impact this has on an audience is that it raises more questions which confuses and unsettles a viewer: (what was playing, how was it playing)
To please an audience a horror film almost has to have a resolution. A film often tries to have a better ending to make it memorable and give a lasting impression. ‘The Others’ has a unique ending. By discovering that the main characters were actually the dead ghosts and the ghosts were the living people, the viewers feeling and what they thought they knew are reversed. This confuses the viewer at first but then puts their mind at ease as they now know about all the ghosts and noises what they were and why they happened.
The viewer’s final sight of the film is the family looking out of one of the mansion big windows in the light. Saying that this was their house and they were never going to be scared away from it. Due to this the viewers are completely happy with the film as any loose ends have been tied up and the film has finished with all the characters storylines ended and completed. I believe that Amenabar has succeeded in his ideal as he wanted to create a horror film filled with suspense and unsettlement without resorting to special effects. Therefore since ‘The Others’ fits these criteria he has succeeded.