"Sooner or later they will find you," teases the ad copy for The Others, an atmospheric ghost story starring Nicole Kidman as a World War II mother with two young children. "They" refers to the denizens of a creepy Victorian mansion where Grace (Kidman) and offspring Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) wait patiently for the return of the family patriarch, Charles (Christopher Eccleston).
That would seem to be a pretty long wait, since quite early on it appears more than likely that Charles isn't returning to the manor house on the secluded Isle of Jersey, where Grace and the children have been hoping against hope that their father is alive. From a distance, one might reason that their cavernous house is the most secure fortress in the region. If only Grace hadn't seen the previous servants pack up and disappear, to be replaced by a trio of dour domestics who appear to have little interest in Grace and her children.
The new help consists of Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), a seemingly devoted servant; Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), a young woman who appears to be mute, and Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes), an older man who functions as a butler. The domestic three seem to be in cahoots with one another in their loyalty to the house, as opposed to Grace and her children, who can't help being intruders in their own home.
Anyone who has read Henry James' masterpiece The Turn of the Screw or seen filmmaker Jack Clayton's 1961 black and-white masterpiece The Innocents will recognize The Others, even if the new film lacks its predecessor's ghostly allure. After all, the earlier movie boasted a smart performance by Deborah Kerr, a screenplay by Truman Capote, and stunning cinematography by the great Freddie Francis.
The Others could have set its sights just as high, but this latest variation, written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar, aims less for subtlety than something out of a horror-movie grab bag. Although the film starts out as a conventional psychological thriller, it wastes little time reverting to something akin to A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. In fact, at a recent preview screening, an otherwise mature viewer gasped audibly throughout the movie, apologized for her outbursts and nearly fled from the screening room.
Kidman brings her ethereal presence to the role of Grace, while veteran actress Flanagan endows the enigmatic Mrs. Mills with a dutiful mien. Eccleston makes the best of the role he's saddled with, that of Grace's dead husband, who turns up without warning from the World War II front. Talk about being late for dinner.