Heartstops And Heartbreak

THE BARGAIN YOU MAKE WITH A THRILler is simple: if it succeeds in scaring you, you're willing to forgive a whole lot of hokum. If the claptrap quotient gets too high, however, the goose bumps won't blossom. Michael Apted's Blink walks a fine line, but if you're willing to accept it on its frankly formulaic terms, it delivers some good jolts.

Madeleine Stowe stars as a '90s-style damsel in distress. Her character, Emma Brody, plays the fiddle in the Chicago Irish band The Drovers. She's strong, foulmouthed, gorgeous and sexy. She is also blind, but about to get a corneal transplant which will allow her to see for the first time since she was blinded at the age of 8 by her violent mother. just her Irish luck, her upstairs neighbor is soon after murdered by a necrophiliac serial killer, and Emma witnesses the killer in the hallway. Sort of Because of her unreliable new eyesight, she's subject to "retroactive vision": it isn't until the next day that she actually sees the image in front of her the night before. This poses an obvious problem for the detective on the case (Aidan Quinn), who can't be sure his witness isn't hallucinating. He believes her--because he's falling in love with her--but his hardheaded colleagues are predictably contemptuous of Emma's tale.

Dana Stevens's screenplay has both clever turns and creaky contrivances. The banter ranges from the witty to the unconvincingly hard-nosed. When these two good-looking lovers quarrel, their fights seem dictated by a screenwriting textbook demanding conflict, not by any inner necessity. In spite of all this, "Blink's" central conceit (it's a vision thing) provides a good opportunity for Apted to show his finesse as a suspense director. Working with cinematographer Dante Spinotti, he contrives some creepily effective point-of-view distortions to hurl us into the disoriented perspective of his heroine. (For real insight into the perils of regaining vision, read Dr. Oliver Sacks.) "Blink" has another big asset in the formidable Stowe, a wonderfully sensual performer who gets to cook on all burners in this toughcookie role. She and Quinn are a mighty hot couple. But the secret ingredient of this adrenaline-pumper is the sound mix, supervised by Chris Newman, who also happened to work on "The Exorcist," "The French Connection" and "The Silence of the Lambs," tense movies all. We're rarely conscious of it, but what really frightens us in movies is often not what we see but what we hear. Not the guy with the knife but the man at the dials. splicing in an electronic "boo!"