With World War II just over and her husband still away, Grace moves to a remote mansion in Jersey with her two children, both of whom have a dangerous allergy to sunlight. However, the arrival of a trio of servants brings with it a host of supernatural go
Fans of slasher horror - complete with spiralling body count, disfigured, wisecracking killer and hellishly sharp instruments of death - will find such things lacking in The Others.
The film marks the English language debut of Spanish writer-director, Alejandro Amenabar, already a Hollywood darling thanks to his previous effort, Open Your Eyes - which has been remade as the forthcoming Cameron Crowe/Tom Cruise collaboration, Vanilla Sky.
What you will get with The Others, however, are some of the creepiest, most atmospheric chills to permeate a cinema screen for years - for by choosing the unseen over the blatant, swapping graphic violence and gruesome murder for self-closing doors and self-playing pianos, and spilling not a single drop of blood along the way, Amenabar has created a haunting, imaginative shocker which is likely to rattle around in your brain for days after.
Kidman is superbly cast here, nailing the plummy English accent to perfection, as the repressed young woman who is forced to keep her photo-sensitive kids (Mann and Bentley) in a world where the curtains stay drawn.
It's the appearance of the new servants (including - yes!! - Eric Sykes) that serves as the catalyst for things to begin happening. And while you know that most of these are going to revolve around Kidman's desire to shield her children from the dangers of daylight and the peculiar list of rules she has imposed upon the household (permanently closed doors which suddenly develop a life of their own, forever-drawn curtains which mysteriously vanish overnight), that doesn't make them any less effective when they do.
While all of this might sound on paper like bog-standard haunted house theatrics (and anybody who saw The Haunting might well dread the thought of that), Amenebar's film is far cleverer.
The director's decision to opt for a slow ratcheting-up of tension is a wise one, given that it lends further credence to the scariest bits and instils a sense of dread and confusion in the audience during the film's quieter moments - the ones that serve to remind you that you never know exactly what's lurking round the next corner.
The small but strong cast display just the right level of creepiness, and the two child stars are a real find. Mann and Bentley do fall victim to the occasional bit of English whimsy, which makes the film feel rather too much like a BBC1 Sunday afternoon teatime drama, but for the most part they manage to be as unsettling as everybody else.
Ultimately though, it's Kidman who takes centre stage - and the big question now, of course, is whether her inevitable Oscar nomination will be for her role in Moulin Rouge, or for this, as the mother driven to distraction, consumed by over-protective love for her children, yet at the same time unable to comprehend the downfall of her safe haven.
In a way, The Others finishes what The Blair Witch Project started - once again reminding us that unseen forces often make for the scariest, most memorable cinematic experiences. It's certainly true if this is anything to go by.
A cracking bit of psychological horror which should confirm Amenabar's status as one of the hottest directors around.