A high-strung woman, an isolated estate, two precocious children... You could be forgiven for thinking this derivative but carefully crafted chiller is mining the same psychological territory as the profoundly disturbing TURN OF THE SCREW. But it's not, and while Spanish writer-director Alejandro Amenábar (making his first film in English) works up some nicely spooky atmosphere, his script hinges on a surprisingly obvious twist that's apparent long before the story comes to its close. Jersey, the Channel Islands, 1945: Grace (Nicole Kidman, whose prissy accent and tight-lipped performance are more than a little grating), a deeply religious young mother, is raising her prepubescent daughter Anne (Alakina Mann) and small son Nicholas (James Bentley) in a gloomy mansion while awaiting the return of her soldier husband, Charles (Christopher Eccleston). But the war is over and there's been no word of him, and the servants have just up and left without so much as picking up their final paychecks. Then out of the blue or perhaps that should be "out of the gray," since murky fog swirls constantly around the grounds three new applicants appear: middle-aged Mrs. Mills (Fionnula Flanagan), mute Lydia (Elaine Cassidy), and elderly gardener Mr. Tuttle (Eric Sykes). Though understandably rattled by the fact that they applied for positions before she placed a "help wanted" notice in the local paper, Grace chooses to accept Mrs. Mills' explanation: All three once worked for the previous tenant, and came by on the off-chance that work might be available. Grace explains that certain rules must be followed strictly, because her children are allergic to sunlight: Curtains must always be drawn and doors locked, lest Anne and Nicholas accidentally wander into a bright room. The new servants quickly discover that the shadows hold disturbing secrets: Little Anne claims she sees mysterious people an old woman, a boy named Victor (Alexander Vince), Victor's parents and Grace, who vehemently disparages talk of supernatural hocus pocus, hears mysterious thuds and thumps from supposedly empty rooms. But there's also something odd about the servants could they be trying to drive Grace insane, or worse, might there be something supernatural about them? Amenabar's attempt to tell a classic uncanny tale, in which goosebumps take precedence over gore and whiz-bang special effects, is commendable.
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- Released: 2001
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: A high-strung woman, an isolated estate, two precocious children... You could be forgiven for thinking this derivative but carefully crafted chiller is mining the same psychological territory as the profoundly disturbing TURN OF THE SCREW. But it's not, an… (more)