Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:45 - Released 8/17/01

The Others starts auspiciously enough with a blood-curdling scream by its star, Nicole Kidman. Unfortunately, this the most interesting thing that happens for the next 45 minutes. Spanish writer/director Alejandro Amenábar, who helmed the film, definitely does not fall into the trap of overstating the horror in his horror film (I have often complained that scary movies undermine their own effectiveness by overdoing their effects), but he almost goes too far in the opposite direction, keeping the action at a slow, plodding pace that provokes more yawns than gasps from his audience. Kidman, who is onscreen during practically every scene, is suitably affected, but one can only witness so many minutes of wandering tensely around a darkened mansion looking for ghosts before one thinks, "Okay, show me something scary, or I'm going to go watch Rush Hour 2 again." The final reel of The Others is reasonably captivating, but the 85 minutes that come before it are mostly just dull and atmospheric.

Kidman's character, Grace, is a mother of two who is still waiting in her huge and unneccessarily scary house in the Channel Islands for the return of her husband from World War II. The trouble is, it's fall 1945, the war ended several months ago, and she still hasn't heard a word. (My theory is he's too scared to come back to the house.) Anyway, while she waits for him, she has other problems. Her children, Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), suffer from an allergy to light which makes it neccessary to keep the curtains closed at all times lest they break out in hives, and her entire staff of servants has recently tendered their resignation, no doubt because Grace has been grumpy lately for lack of sex.

While Grace alternates between catching up on her embroidery and psychologically torturing her kids with scary Bible lessons, her new staff of three begins to learn the rules of the house. Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), whose soft but frumpy exterior and Dublin accent give her a startling resemblance to Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire, serves as the house's mysterious cook/nanny, Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes) is the mysterious gardener, and Lydia (Elaine Cassidy) is the mysterious young mute girl whose purpose seems mainly to be mysterious. They learn that any open door must be closed before another is opened, the curtains must always be closed, and the children must be kept on the edge of terror at all times.

As usual in this type of movie, the house is just as much a character as anyone in the film. The place is ridiculously huge, with stone walls on the outside and dark wood interiors, ancient furniture and fixtures, and no electricity. The weather seems to be in a permanent foggy morning state, during the few times we actually see outside. This oppressive atmosphere would be good for horror if there were any horror to speak of in the film. But as it turns out, it's just oppressive. Though Kidman plays her red-eyed lunatic/migraine sufferer character like a woman possessed, the anemic-looking kids and the unsettlingly quiet nanny add equal parts of understated eerieness. As Mrs. Mills, Flanagan projects an air of grandmotherly affection mixed with self-confident menace; the children are not quite so effective. Mann is in conflict about whether she's supposed to be scared or supportive of the ghosts in the house, and Bentley, who seems to have a permanent scowl etched on his forehead, just reads his lines. The result is all atmosphere with no substance, and though the ominous line "Stop breathing!" is uttered more than once, there is precious little in this story to scare anybody. ***

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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