Light burns and darkness protects in "The Others," a terrific new ghost story that offers frights the old-fashioned way. 

Dark Shadows

Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar follows up his twisty "Open Your Eyes" ("Abres los Ojos") with "The Others," an equally tricky and haunting attempt to capture a traditional ghost story on film.

Low-key and full of genuine frights, Amenabar's film succeeds in scaring the daylights out of us without a single computer-generated special effect. "The Others" should thrill even the most finicky fans of supernatural tales as it sets the eerie stage for a final, "Sixth Sense"-esque plot twist.

Dripping with atmosphere and below-the-surface menace, this neo-Gothic fright follows the traditional rules of ghost stories, but with refreshing results. From the opening scream of a disheveled and tormented-looking Nicole Kidman to the movie's final plot twist, you'll find yourself mentally and emotionally engaged in the mysterious happenings inside the darkened manse on the remote British Isle of Jersey.

In many ways, "The Others" reeks of recognizable Gothic conceits. It's a chilling combination of the damsel-in-distress genre with the haunted-house theme. Kidman's a stiff-upper-lipped mother, who is struggling with her own demons; her two young and somewhat precocious children; a trio of earthy, no-nonsense servants; and some uninvited, otherworldly intruders have taken up residence in the fog-enshrouded, isolated mansion the living call home.

At times, Amenabar's thriller recalls such classics as Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw," which was wonderfully adapted on-screen by Jack Clayton as "The Innocents" in 1962. It's not shot in black-and-white like most of the best movies about supernatural spirits are (1944's "The Uninvited," for example, or Robert Wise's 1962 version of "The Haunting"), but "The Others" is visually striking. It uses a somber palette of dark greens, browns and blues to create its necessary spooky atmosphere.

"The Others" is set in 1945. Kidman is Grace, a mother struggling with the possibility of her husband never returning from the front — he's listed as missing in action — while caring for her two children who suffer from acute photosensitivity. Since Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley) might die from exposure to sunlight, Grace carries a monstrous set of keys around her waist. She allows only one door to be open at a time, to prevent the damaging light from streaming into the cavernous mansion.

As the film begins, Grace welcomes a servant family (Fionnula Flanagan, Eric Sykes and Elaine Cassidy) into her home. It seems her other servants mysteriously vanished. Soon after, Anne claims to be seeing ghosts, keeping her brother, Nicholas, in a perpetual state of near-fright. While Grace tries in vain to pin the various strange noises and occurrences on the servants, it soon becomes clear something more sinister and frightening is going on.

Kidman's trademark cool demeanor is perfectly suited to the role of Grace. The juxtaposition of her unbending faith with the increasingly weird happenings fuels the movie's real tension. And the two child actors are marvels, much along the lines of Haley Joel Osment's chilling performance in "The Sixth Sense." Mann makes Anne into something of a thorn in her mother's devout side, a brash, headstrong young girl who believes in ghosts and relishes tormenting her brother. As Nicholas, Bentley is a pasty-white, pouty thing whose face often mirrors the mounting fears we in the audience are imagining.

But for all of Amenabar's creepy ambience and a series of mounting frights and jolts, "The Others" has some problems, especially in the plot department. Clues and red herrings are strewn about with abandon and often without much logic. And some will feel the buildup to the final inevitable twist is more than overkill.

But what I like best about "The Others" is the sense of dread and foreboding Amenabar successfully creates. Amenabar reinvigorates the ailing "dark house" horror genre through imagination and intelligence, keeping us involved in his dark tale until the end.

Movies are rated out of a possible 5

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