Haunted house sets the scene for marvelously creepy 'The Others'

At its best, Alejandro Amenabar's "The Others" is reminiscent of "The Innocents," Jack Clayton's marvelously creepy 1960 version of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw." There's a remote old house (in this case, on an island in the English Channel, set in 1945), two haunted-looking children, a caretaker who may be unreliable and some ghosts who may or may not be imaginary.

Amenabar, a 29-year-old Spaniard, wrote and directed the film, and even composed its eerie score. It's his English-language debut (his "Open Your Eyes" is currently being remade by Cameron Crowe) and he clearly has a knack for nicely timed scares and the clammy, dark atmosphere of the gothic thriller.

"The Others"

With Nicole Kidman, Fionnula Flanagan, Christopher Eccleston. Written and directed by Alejandro Amenabar. 104 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and frightening moments. Various theaters.
Unfortunately, his leading lady disappoints. Nicole Kidman, prim in a '40s bob and fitted suits, adopts a breathy English accent and an odd posture more appropriate for a lingerie model than a troubled mother — she's so upright she's practically leaning backward. Kidman was a memorable, sexy presence earlier this year in "Moulin Rouge," but here she can't rely on her considerable beauty and never seems to get comfortable with her role.

The supporting actors fare better: Alakina Mann and James Bentley (whose tragic little face is heartbreaking) are suitably disturbing as the children; Fionnula Flanagan is appealing as an increasingly mysterious nanny.

"The Others" is bumpy at first, with a few too many clichés and an awful lot of doors opening and closing. But by its final image — a beautifully fading portrait through a window — I was swept in. Amenabar is clearly a talent to watch.

Moira Macdonald can be reached at 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.