August 20, 2001 12:00 PM

Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan

It’s mommy fearest for Kidman in The Others, an arty ghost film set in the Channel Islands during the waning days of World War II. Kidman plays Grace, a religious war widow raising a young son and daughter inside a fog-bound mansion on the island of Jersey. Her children suffer from a deadly disease that makes them sensitive to bright light, so she keeps the curtains drawn and relies on candles and kerosene lamps. But someone or something is out to harm her offspring. Doors and windows are mysteriously left open, allowing sunlight to come flooding in. The kids wake up screaming, saying they’ve had nighttime visits from a nasty boy who claims he once lived in the house. The children begin persistently questioning Mom about where exactly one goes when one dies. Observing these goings-on, the new nanny (Flanagan) announces portentously, “Sometimes the world of the dead and the world of the living get mixed up.”

As haunted-house movies go, the coolly elegant Others is a notch above most, and it rivals The Sixth Sense for a “gotcha” final twist. Making great use of Kidman’s essentially frosty screen presence, writer-director Alejandro Amenábar (Open Your Eyes) ratchets up the sense of foreboding without resorting to the bloody scare tactics of many recent horror pictures. Ultimately, though, the effectiveness of the movie depends on just how willing a viewer is to buy into the notion that the undead walk among us. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Spirited entertainment

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