Who else is in the house?
No, it’s not a belated sequel to the 1972 Canadian horror hit The Other, but it explores similar edge-of-your-seat supernatural territory. Spanish director/writer/composer Alejandro Amenábar spent a few years developing this Cruise-Wagner Production. His careful, patient work has resulted in a careful, patient movie – one that you know is going to try and sneak up and scare you, but manages to do it anyway.
Nicole Kidman stars as a young woman with two young children in a huge mansion in 1945. The house is set on a constantly fogbound island off the coast of England, seemingly at the end of the world. We learn that the Nazi’s briefly managed to gain a foothold on the island early in the war, which impelled Kidman’s husband (Christopher Eccleston) to join the army. So she’s left to wait for his return, her loneliness compounded by the light hypersensitivity of the children which requires all curtains to be drawn and all doors to be locked.
The film begins after Kidman’s serving staff has suddenly left without warning, necessitating the immediate hiring of the three new servants that come calling. Though the six are supposedly the only people in the great house (and almost the only ones in the cast), she keeps hearing unexplained noises coming from rooms where no one should be. Daughter Anne (a standout performance by Alakina Mann, who resembles a young Drew Barrymore) reports seeing and talking with a little boy named Victor, which angers her strict mother and terrifies her younger brother Nicholas (James Bentley).
It’s the kind of movie that deliberately keeps you guessing until the last moment, then piles on the twists. Is Kidman going mad? Are the children or the servants trying to drive her out of her mind? Are the ghosts real? You’ll find yourself guessing at several different possible solutions, never knowing which of them will turn out. Along the way, Amenábar delivers some prickly creeps and solid jolts, some of which produced actual screams from the audience I was part of.
Fox has dropped this gem of a thriller in the middle of Summer, trying to reproduce their hit with What Lies Beneath the previous year. They haven’t had near the success with this much superior film, which would do better during the chill days of October or November than the sunny skies of August.