AS HALLOWEEN creeps closer, director Alejandro Amenábar brings us a spine stiffening, white-knuckle-making treat, that is by turns classic Henry James-ian Victorian ghost story, and a chilling study into the psychological horrors of isolation and loneliness.
This is the 29-year-old Spaniard's first English language film since he wowed critics in 1997 with his sexy suspense thriller 'Abre Los Ojos' (Open Your Eyes).
The Others stars Nicole Kidman as Grace, a highly strung, overprotective and devoutly religious young mother.
Grace and her family live in a beautiful, isolated, echoing Gothic mansion on the island of Jersey at the tail end of World War II where she, and her two children Anne (Alakina Mann) and Nicholas (James Bentley), wait patiently for her husband to return from the front.
The film opens with Grace reading the children a whispered bedtime story of biblical fire and brimstone which is more likely to inspire nightmares than pleasant dreams.
The uneasy feeling that something is not quite right is gradually built from the beginning as three new servants arrive in search of work at the mansion.
All the previous servants in the house apparently, and inexplicably, disappeared one night, and the mistress of the house is fanatically obsessed with bizarre rules.
All doors inside the house must be locked at all times, and all of the main rooms in the house are to be in permanent darkness - there is no electricity, and the heavy curtains are always to be remained closed.
The reason for this peculiar quirk is revealed when we meet the children. Both of them have been diagnosed as photosensitive - if they are exposed to strong light they will blister and die.
The inhabitants of the house must endure an almost permanent world of oppressive darkness.
The children accept it and fill their twilight world with flights of fantasy and childishly frightening games, but the unbearable strain is beginning to take it's toll on their jumpy, disciplinarian mother.
Things are not made any better by Anne's new 'game'. She is adamant that they are not alone in the house, and that she has been speaking to the 'imaginary' intruders in their home.
At first enraged by her daughter's cruel 'game', Grace begins to reconsider.
Things go 'bump' in the night, floorboards creak. Locked doors open and close inexplicably. Strange voices whisper from empty corners, and although she doesn't believe in ghosts, Grace is forced to realise that something supernatural is happening in her home.
The Others is a slow and deliberate film, it doesn't resort to any overblown CGI effects, OTT soundtrack, or cheap stingers to frighten the audience.
Amenábar slowly builds up the chilling atmosphere by degrees, gradually stretching the audiences' nerves to an almost painful pitch.
There are some scenes that are a little overlong in places, but that is forgivable.
Javier Aguirresarobe's wonderful cinematography utilises the light, or rather the lack of light, superbly, tuning into everyone's most primordial fear - fear of the dark.
The performances are excellent.
The narrative is relayed to us via Grace's reactions, conveying a kind of barely concealed hysteria that turns into moments of abject terror, made believable to the audience because of Kidman's subtle, yet intense performance. She makes the audience feel her fear.
The children are excellent; the angelic-looking Mann has a devilish streak a mile wide, and a refreshing sarcastic sense of humour to boot, while Bentley is sweet - but not annoying as her fearful little brother.
Fionnula Flanagan is also good as the seemingly benevolent house-keeper/nanny with a secret or two to hide.
The rest of the small cast are made up of gardener, Mr Tuttle (Eric Sykes) and mute chambermaid Lydia, (Elaine Cassidy).
The house itself is beautiful and cavernous, but once the light has been removed and the curtains closed it becomes claustrophobic, sinister, threatening and in some scenes downright terrifying.
The Others serves as a timely reminder that an overdose of tacky prosthetics and CGI beasties are no substitute for psychological terror, and that filmmakers do not have to assault their audience with violence, gore, nudity or a deafening soundtrack in order to scare them silly.
Release date: 2 November 2001, special previews 31 October
For the official site click here , (yes we know it's in Spanish)