Whispers in the Dark (1992)

John G. Nettles

What emerges here is a painfully generic potboiler briefly masquerading as softcore porn.

Whispers in the Dark

Director: Christopher Crowe
Cast: Annabella Sciorra, Jamey Sheridan, Anthony LaPaglia, Jill Clayburgh, John Leguizamo, Deborah Unger, Anthony Heald, Alan Alda
MPAA rating: R
Studio: Paramount
First date: 1992
US DVD Release Date: 2004-09-07

There's a Steven Wright joke that goes, "I came home the other day and found that everything in my house had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica." This line is an apt description of the cast of 1992's Whispers in the Dark, composed of otherwise excellent actors playing so to type that they resemble other people impersonating them. Kind of like if Jack Nicholson walked through a movie pulling his hairline back and saying nothing but "Wait'll they get a load of me" over and over.

Here is Annabella Sciorra, fresh off The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, playing A Woman in Jeopardy, John Leguizamo playing A Brittle Violent Guy, Alan Alda hauling out his usual Older Sensitive Guy, Anthony LaPaglia as An Edgy Cop, and Anthony Heald as Smarmy Dickhead #376. The exception is Jamey Sheridan, who plays Bill Pullman.

And one really wants these people to put more of an effort into this movie, because writer-director Christopher Crowe has his hands too full trying to make his erotic thriller erotic and/or thrilling to breathe life into his actors. The resulting film is workmanlike at best and has the fishy reek of a trawler net full of red herrings.

Sciorra is Ann Hecker, a Manhattan psychiatrist with a jerk boyfriend (Heald) who's just walked out on her, a problem with recurring out-of-focus wet dreams, and a $300-an-hour practice on Fifth Avenue, despite the fact that she doesn't seem to be very good at it, unable to maintain any sort of professional detachment from her patients. One patient in particular disturbs her, a woman named Eve (Deborah Unger, delivering the best performance in the movie) who is in an obsessive relationship with a mysterious man who likes to tie her up to things and initiate extreme danger-play with a noose, which Crowe illustrates with lovingly arty montages. Sensing Ann's arousal at these stories, Eve plays them up, getting off on her ability to manipulate her therapist.

Between the dreams and the erotolalia, Ann is hot and bothered at being so, well, hot and bothered, and seeks the help of her friend and former mentor Leo Green (Alda). Rather than berating her for coming to him with a Freudian problem that a Psych 101 student could figure out, he agrees to work with her. At the same time, she takes up with Doug (Sheridan), a ruggedly handsome pilot she meets in her building, and suddenly Ann's problems are all solved. It turns out all she needed was a good man with no depth whatsoever.

Or not. Eve's stories are still nagging at Ann, and she goes to Eve's regular rendezvous spot to catch a glimpse of the mysterious stranger with all that rope (at this point the idea of Ann being competent enough to command $300 an hour is as absurd as call-girl Barbra Streisand making that much in Nuts), only to find Eve canoodling with Doug. Eve finds out about Doug's philandering as well and publicly threatens Doug and Ann. Shortly thereafter Eve is dead, bludgeoned and left hanging by the neck in her apartment, and Ann must ask herself if Doug, the relentlessly white-bread man of her dreams, is actually a psychotic perv.

Enter Detective Larry Morganstern, a cop-who-pays-by-his-own-rules who suspects Doug of the murder but also badgers Ann to break doctor-patient confidentiality, both in her sessions with Eve and with artist John Castillo (Leguizamo), an ex-convict with a bondage bug of his own who also knows Eve. Whom can Ann trust? Will she be the next victim?

And why are there no more sexy montages after the first act? Crowe overloads the first half of his film by dwelling on Eve's fetishes and their effect on Ann, implying a clear (if ham-handed) attempt at some kind of psychological subtext that disappears as soon as Eve is murdered and the film degenerates into strict movie-of-the-week damsel-in-distress territory. Not that this film should be 9 1/2 Weeks, but Crowe makes a big deal about opening the kinky-sex door and then slams it shut and forgets about it. Either it's germane to the film or it's not, and it's a bad sign for your movie when the gratuitous sex isn't gratuitous enough.

Which leaves us with the "thriller," a second and third act composed primarily of stale bits reminiscent of old cop shows, wherein people can be led into traps by calling them on the phone and New York apartments are the easiest places to break into, where confidential file drawers are conveniently unlocked and damning pieces of evidence are left lying around in plain sight. Or perhaps this is a clever trick on Crowe's part to lull the viewer. I must admit that when the murderer was revealed, I didn't see it coming -- because I'd discounted it as too obvious even for this flick.

What Whispers in the Dark represents is an opportunity tragically wasted, a film that could have been about the dark places in the psyche, with a superb cast in the roles -- psychiatrists, detective, artist -- of explorers of the soul. What emerges here is a painfully generic potboiler briefly masquerading as softcore porn.





Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 1, Gang of Four to the Birthday Party

If we must #quarantine, at least give us some post-punk. This week we are revisiting the best post-punk albums of all-time and we kick things off with Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., Throbbing Gristle, and more.


Alison Chesley Toils in Human and Musical Connectivity on Helen Money's 'Atomic'

Chicago-based cellist, Alison Chesley (a.k.a. Helen Money) creates an utterly riveting listen from beginning to end on Atomic.


That Kid's 'Crush' Is a Glittering Crossroads for E-Boy Music

That Kid's Crush stands out for its immediacy as a collection of light-hearted party music, but the project struggles with facelessness.


Percival Everett's ​​​'Telephone​​​' Offers a Timely Lesson

Telephone provides a case study of a family dynamic shaken by illness, what can be controlled, and what must be accepted.


Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.


Counterbalance No. 10: 'Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols'

The Spirit of ’77 abounds as Sex Pistols round out the Top Ten on the Big List. Counterbalance take a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. Right. Now.


'Thor: Ragnarok' Destroys and Discards the Thor Mythos

Taika Waititi's Thor: Ragnarok takes a refreshingly iconoclastic approach to Thor, throwing out the old, bringing in the new, and packaging the story in a colourful, gorgeously trashy aesthetic that perfectly captures the spirit of the comics.


Alps 2 and Harry No Release Eclectic Single "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" (premiere)

Alps 2 and Harry NoSong's "Madness at Toni's Chip Shop in Wishaw" is a dizzying mix of mangled 2-step rhythms and woozy tranquil electronics.


Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings Team for Wonderfully Sparse "Where Or When" (premiere)

Kathleen Grace and Larry Goldings' "Where Or When" is a wonderfully understated performance that walks the line between pop and jazz.


Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.


New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.


Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.


Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.


New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.


'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.


Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.


Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.


M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.