Your house is old, creaky, dark. The piano plays when there's no one there, the chandeliers shake though the room above is empty, voices are heard but no speakers can be found. Almost anyone would assume they're living in a haunted house, but not Grace.
The year is 1945, the place is Jersey, one of the Channel Islands between Britain and France, and Grace, impressively played by Nicole Kidman, has a lot to be terrified about. Her husband went off to war a year and a half ago and has not been heard from since.
Her two children are allergic to light and could die if exposed to the sun, which means all windows have to be curtained and all rooms locked to prevent light from leaking anywhere. And the house's lack of radio, telephone and electricity makes its fog-shrouded condition even more ominous. Devoutly religious, obsessed with the next life and the various hells it might have in store, Grace is stubborn. She refuses to believe it when her daughter says their house has other beings in it--a child named Victor who cries all the time, a crone-like old woman, God knows who else.
Trying to help her out are three replacement servants who arrive when Grace's mysteriously disappear. There's the kindly and competent Mrs. Mills (veteran Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan), elderly Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) and mute young Lydia (Elaine Cassidy). Grace, however, thinks she knows better. But what exactly does she know, and what knowledge is just beyond her?
"The Others" is the first English-language film by highly regarded young Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar, whose last feature, the Penelope Cruz-starring "Abre Los Ojos" (Open Your Eyes) is being remade by Cameron Crowe with Cruz and Tom Cruise as "Vanilla Sky."
But while "Abre Los Ojos" was a daring and unsettling head trip, "The Others" couldn't be more traditional. Elegantly and deliberately made, reeking of mood and creepiness, it relishes its atmosphere of genteel menace and is determined not to let things get grotesquely out of hand, a la the 1999 remake of "The Haunting."
As writer-director Amenabar accurately put it, "I think it is dangerously easy in this type of film to go overboard with special effects and turn the desired shivers into revulsion. For me, leaving something to the imagination is the essence of real horror."
So "The Others" is a film of unknown terrors lurking behind closed doors, more like "The Turn of the Screw" than "Scream." With an English-style manor on the Spanish coast standing in for the haunted mansion's exterior and the interiors re-created on a Madrid sound stage, top Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe has spookily tied it all together with a fine display of visual craft.
Especially notable for a director whose first language is not English, all the acting is quite well done, with Flanagan especially strong as the sane counterbalance to Kidman's hysterical mother and newcomers Alakina Mann and James Bentley on target as the two children in peril.
"The Others" is anchored, however, in the persuasive 1940s Hollywood diva-style performance of Kidman. This may be a ghost story distributed by Dimension Films, Miramax's genre arm, but Kidman has thrown herself into her role as if it were Lady Macbeth on the London stage, with formidable results.
Though Kidman doesn't hesitate to make Grace high-strung and as tightly wound as they come, she also projects vulnerability and courage when they're called for. It's an intense, involving performance, and it dominates and energizes a film that would be lost without it.
MPAA rating: PG-13, for thematic elements and frightening moments. Times guidelines: The fear factor is more imagined than graphic.
Nicole Kidman: Grace
Fionnula Flanagan: Mrs. Mills
Christopher Eccleston: Charles
Alakina Mann: Anne
James Bentley: Nicholas
Eric Sykes: Mr. Tuttle
Elaine Cassidy: Lydia
Dimension Films presents a Cruise-Wagner Productions/Sogecine/Las Producciones del Escorpion production, released by Dimension Films. Director Alejandro Amenabar. Producers Fernando Bovaira, Jose Luis Cuerda, Sunmin Park. Executive producers Tom Cruise, Paula Wagner, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Rick Schwartz. Screenplay by Alejandro Amenabar. Cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe. Costume designer Sonia Grande. Music Alejandro Amenabar. Production designer Benjamin Fernandez. Set decorator Emilio Ardura. Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.
In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times