Field of Screams

Speaking of genres, the woman-in-jeopardy movie has been getting quite a working-over lately, from Sleeping With the Enemy to A Stranger Among Us. Whispers in the Dark is a fairly fluent example of this stereotypical crowd-pleaser: The film is tension-packed, mystery-laden, and ably acted. And there's a bonus: Psychiatrists will probablyhate it.

Enter emerging star Annabella Sciorra (Spike Lee's Juliet in Jungle Fever) as a well-heeled Fifth Avenue shrink with a few mental problems of her own. The patients' carnal fantasies have been getting to her in the form of bondage dreams, and before you can say "Honey, I kidded the shrink," Dr. Ann Hecker finds herself embroiled in illicit romance, murder, and mayhem. For a moment there it's almost as if Sciorra were remaking The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, in which she squared off against that retro-Bette Davis, murderous babysitter, Rebecca De Mornay.

Luckily for us, writer-director Christopher Crowe (who scripted Off Limits and the upcoming The Last of the Mohicans) provides suspects aplenty when a particularly disturbed young woman winds up at the literal end of her rope and Doc realizes she may have been the cause.

The killer? Pick a favorite from the field: There's Johnny C. (fiery John Leguizamo), the convicted sadist-turned-darling-of-the-art-world; Ann's bottle-ravenous, discarded boyfriend Paul (Anthony Heald); the seemingly gentle charter pilot (Jamey Sheridan) who flies Ann to dinner on Nantucket and takes up with her. Even Anthony Lapaglia's canny, wisecracking New York cop, Morgenstern (Lapaglia takes best-in-show honors), and Alan Alda as the sincere fellow shrink and mentor come under suspicion, but there's no reason to ruin the fun here.

Crowe tosses in just the right quota of red herrings as doctor and tormentor come to their inevitable showdown, while Whispers gently prods the issues of human trust, suspicion, and betrayal. Questionable medical ethics also come under some scrutiny (as they did in another shrink-bashing thriller, Final Analysis, featuring Richard Gere, M.D.).

In the movie's best sequence, Crowe beautifully satirizes the style gap between a therapy session and a police interrogation.

Not even close to being a great movie, this one, but still it's a scary enough return visit to the murder mystery based on the professional who gets a little too close to her work, and it's far superior to most of the dreck out there this summer. Not that that's saying very much.

Come to think of it, maybe you should take your analyst.

Written and directed by Christopher Crowe; with Annabella Sciorra, Jamey Sheridan, Anthony Lapaglia, and Alan Alda.



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