Movies like this are the reason I continue to do Shocktober. Just when you think you’ve scraped the bottom of the horror barrel you find something so good you’re baffled its been hiding away for all these years. The Other is one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen for a Shocktober entry. There are no throwaway, “Gotcha!” moments here. The Other instead goes for that slow burn of uneasiness that when finally extinguished still leaves you shaking in the dark like a frightened child. Who could be responsible for such a hidden horror classic… The director of To Kill a Mockingbird? That’s right. But let’s talk about Robert Mulligan’s “other” classic.
Adapted for the screen by Tom Tryon (from his own book), The Other is the story of pre-teen identical twins Niles (Chris Udvarnoky) and Holland Perry (Martin Udvarnoky) growing up on their family farm in the summer of 1935. Although inseparable, the two brothers have very distinct personalities. While Niles is often soft-spoken and reserved, Holland is deceptive and a born troublemaker, often placing the blame for his schemes on his defenseless better half. The only time they two spend apart from each other is when Niles visits his loving grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen), who teaches Niles how to tap into his imagination and escape his at times difficult surroundings. Though there’s a reason life is difficult on the Perry farm.
Death. No matter where Niles and Holland seem to go innocent people die around them. Niles suspects Holland but feels helpless in controlling him. It is in these few but effective moments of violence that the film bites with the most ferocity. Let me setup one particularly haunting scene with three words: Little boy, pitchfork. No one is safe in The Other, not animals, not children, and it’s only made that more disturbing when you realize what’s really unfolding before you.
If you can’t already tell by my ambiguity, The Other is indeed the bearer of a significant plot twist. Honestly, it’s not difficult to unravel the twist early on but in a way that made the film more enjoyable. You get to enjoy the film from your own point of view and from the point of view of the characters, resulting in a richly layered experience.
It’s fascinating to note that this again is from the same director of To Kill a Mockingbird. What’s even more fascinating is that this movie does bear some similarities to that movie. Both are set in idyllic country settings and both explore the dark side of childhood. After this I can tell that Robert Mulligan has a distinct style and not to mention a knack for finding talented child actors. The Udvarnoky brothers feel very natural while still managing to delve into some very dark corners. In a way, the film reminds me of something Guillermo Del Toro would dream up (maybe he’s a fan of the film), just the whole idea of playing with the fantasy worlds that children seem to place themselves into, it is a thing of both beauty and nightmares.
I’m not really sure what else to say about The Other. It has put me into a state of stunned silence. So I’ll let Roger Ebert finish it out, “The Other has been criticized in some quarters because Mulligan made it too beautiful, they say, and too nostalgic. Not at all. His colors are rich and deep and dark, chocolatey browns and bloody reds; they aren’t beautiful but perverse and menacing. And the farm isn’t seen with a warm nostalgia, but with a remembrance that it is haunted.” Well said Roger.