Do they see dead people?


written and directed by Alejandro Amenᢡr with Nicole Kidman opens Aug. 10 at Metro, Pacific Place, and others

NICOLE KIDMAN'S character Grace is about as far away from Moulin Rouge's Satine as she could get (without, say, donning a Julia Roberts-style fat suit). Using her pale complexion, slim posture, and—by gum—acting skills for quiet tension rather than rapidly cut teases, Kidman helps make this chilly, supernatural tale a surprisingly affecting and substantial ghost story. Its take on the venerable haunted house thriller twists perception rather than plot, thanks to Alejandro Amenᢡr (whose '97 Open Your Eyes is the basis for the December Tom Cruise flick Vanilla Sky).

On a remote island just after World War II, Grace and her two children live in a cavernous mansion awaiting the return of their husband and father (Jude's Christopher Eccleston) from the front. With the abrupt arrival of three mysterious new servants, weird and possibly paranormal things begin to happen.

But things have always been strange in this ominous house. The children suffer from a malady that makes them allergic to light, requiring Grace to shut every curtain and lock every door around them before opening the next, engulfing their existence in total darkness. Agitated, isolated, and devout, Grace seems on the verge of a breakdown. Her last nerve pops thanks to her insolent daughter (Alakina Mann, who should receive favorable comparisons to Haley Joel Osment), who claims to have made contact with unseen apparitions. Meanwhile the servants begin hinting at the mansion's secrets.

Already a prison, the house symbolizes nothing less than a barren womb, a dark, forgotten nest where Grace and family splinter into mutual mistrust. It's the perfect setup for paranoia and sleuthing, ripe for a twist ending ࠬa The Sixth Sense or Turn of the Screw, but luckily the movie doesn't depend on jolts (although there are a few). With its slow, elegant restraint, The Others ends up as memorable and haunting as its story's ghosts.

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