The Others

In Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar’s atmospheric “The Others,” Nicole Kidman stars as Grace, a woman who has a hard time keeping servants at her creepy estate on the Isle of Jersey.


otherMaybe it’s the estate, a gothic mansion constantly shrouded in a blanket of fog. Maybe it’s the strange noises that come out of nowhere. Maybe it’s her house rules, which require that all curtains be drawn and one door be locked before another is opened.

Maybe it’s Grace’s creepy kids Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), afflicted with a disease that forces them to stay out of direct sunlight. Or maybe it’s Grace, who shows all outward signs of going off the deep end.

Despite Amenabar’s attempt to keep us at bay, his screenplay is extremely transparent. He suggests that Grace might be going mad, but we know better. Anyone who has sat through a handful of ghost movies will be two steps ahead of the characters.

Amenabar’s script owes a great deal to Shirley Jackson and Agatha Christie, even though he lacks their subtlety. Red herrings are one thing. Amenabar bombards us with dead whales. Nothing comes as a surprise in “The Others.”

Kidman delivers a brave performance as Grace, hitting dramatic highs without going over the top. Even though Grace is demanding to the point of being scary, Kidman helps us believe that she has her children’s best intentions in mind.

You can’t blame Grace for being somewhat edgy. Her husband Charles (Christopher Eccleston) never came home from the war. Even though she hasn’t given up hope, Grace knows deep down that he’s not coming back.

Abandoned by her servants, Grace feels trapped and abandoned. She can’t leave her children, and she can’t risk taking them outside.

Just when Grace reaches the end of her rope, help arrives in the form of three servants: Cook and nanny Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), gardener Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), and housekeeper Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). Grace can’t explain their presence, she’s just thrilled to have some relief.

It doesn’t take long before strange noises and supernatural happenings plague the house, leading everyone but Grace to believe that the estate is haunted. Deeply religious, Grace refuses to buy into such nonsense. She suspects that someone is in the house. She’s right, but to say anymore would give away what little surprise the film has in store.

Amenabar is blessed with a terrific cast that understands the weaknesses of the script and plays to its strengths. There’s great conviction in every performance, even when the actors are forced to say and do silly things.

The great Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan is a stand-out as the wise, old housekeeper who is as cryptic as she is helpful. Flanagan is always a delight, and she brings Mrs. Mills down to Earth. We suspect the obvious about Mrs. Mills, yet Flanagan shades the character so well we constantly give her the benefit of a doubt.

Newcomers Alakina Mann and James Bentley are absolutely chilling as the children. Pale white from their lack of exposure to the sun, Anne and Nicholas reminded me of the kid from “The Omen.” Even when they smile you suspect that there’s something more devious going on underneath.

Set in 1945, the film features detailed production design by Benjamin Fernandez and exquisite photography by Javier Aguirresarobe, who bathes every scene with ominous shadows and golden hues. Amenabar, who was a composer before becoming a director, lends a haunting but manipulative score that suggests more thrills than the film delivers.

Amenabar occasionally gets it right, creating mood and atmosphere capable of raising goose flesh. Some of the scenes are actually quite frightening, including a visit to a storage room that will have you jumping out of your seat.

Unfortunately, for “The Others” to pay off, we need to be there with the characters, not at the finish line waiting for them to catch up. By the time the big revelation comes, we’re left wanting.

“The Others” has the bad luck of coming out after “The Sixth Sense,” a marvelous ghost story with a screenplay that proved less is more. Amenabar piles it on so thick that the audience has no choice but to arrive at the correct conclusion.

If you want to enjoy “The Others,” check your brain in at the front door.

GHOST DUSTERThe Others director goes for traditional frights

THE OTHERS

Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston, Alakina Mann, James Bentley, Eric Sykes. Directed by Alejandro Amenabar. Rated PG-13. 101 Minutes.

LARSEN RATING: $4.00



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