The Others

Perhaps I was predisposed not to love this film. Its premise – a repressed woman (Nicole Kidman) watching after two spooky kids in an English mansion that she believes may be haunted – is awfully reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite films, 1961's The Innocents. A hard act to follow, to be sure. But the similarities end there.

Set on Jersey Island in the English Channel just after the end of World War II, Kidman plays a woman whose husband has disappeared on the battlefield and who dotes – punishingly – on her two sickly children, who have a rare allergy to sunlight that forces Mum to keep all the curtains closed and all the doors locked, so that they don't wander into the light and get themselves killed. It's a clever reversal on the old dark house formula: in this case, it's sunlight that's the danger.

Enter a trio of mysterious house servants (led by Fionulla Flanagan) who just happen to walk by the house looking for work, and who just happen to have worked at that house long before Kidman and her brood moved in. Sounds fishy? Well, just in case you aren't suspicious enough, Flanagan keeps saying portentous things like "Oh, there's going to be some surprises soon!" and "No no, don't tell her yet, she'll find out soon enough." As well as numerous hushed references to "What Happened That Day."

In the end, The Others' sophomoric mystery is too heavy-handed. Unlike true psychological horror such as The Innocents, the characters only exist to serve the plot, which would have made a good Twilight Zone episode but isn't strong enough for big-screen treatment. Still, it's a good-looking film, and Amenábar and his Spanish crew evoke a creepy atmosphere. But watch The Innocents instead. If you're hoping to get spooked, that film is infinitely more satisfying.