No two ways about it, this is a strange film. Acclaimed actor-turned-novelist Tom Tryon (I Married A Monster from Outer Space (1958) (film) Harvest Home (novel, itself filmed as well-received TV mini-series The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978) starring Bette Davis) wrote The Other in 1971, and it came to the attention of acclaimed director Robert Mulligan (To Kill A Mockingbird (1962), Summer of ’42 (1971)), who, along with Tryon as screenwriter, succeeded in turning it into a film that, while it enjoyed only modest success on its original release has, like all the best horror, improved greatly with time and now has a loyal cult following.
And the story has the simplicity of a grim folk tale – identical 11-year-old identical twins Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky respectively) are enjoying an idyllic 1935 summer on their family’s farm – the daily activities of the farm are seen entirely through the boys’ eyes, with Holland the mischievous trouble-maker and Niles the more sympathetic, naive and credulous frequent victim of his brother’s pranks. Their mother is a recluse in her upstairs bedroom, grieving over the recent death of the boys’ father, while grandmother Ada (Uta Hagen), a Russian emigrant, dotes on Niles and has taught him how to project himself outside of his body – a psychic ability that she calls “the great game”, but it is a game that may be getting very dangerously out of control…
Mulligan’s film, ultimately, is something of a one-trick pony, but there’s no denying the fact that it’s a trick that will take most viewers by surprise when it comes – Mulligan’s decision to present the action from the perspectives of both boys is one of the rare occassions when cinema, in subverting the omniscient narration of a novel, is in fact more effective.
And it is chilling – without giving the twist away, whether it is supernatural or not is a matter for individual perspectives, but there is no doubting the clammy sense of dread that the film still evokes. One for a Saturday night, with a good bottle of wine, in front of a shadowy, flickering fire.