Emma is an attractive girl in her 20s who has been blind for 20 years. A new type of eye operation partially restores her sight, but she is having problems: sometimes she doesn’t “remember” what she’s seen until later. One night she is awakened by a commotion upstairs. Peering out of her door, she sees a shadowy figure descending the stairs. Convinced that her neighbour has been murdered she approaches the police, only to find that she is unsure if it was just her new eyes playing tricks on her.
Michael Apted’s formulaic crime-mystery stalker thriller (similar to Wait Until Dark (1967) and the subsequent The Eye (2008)) starred Madeleine Stowe as blinded Emma Brody, a Celtic folk musician-violinist in a hip band called the Drovers, whose sight was damaged 20 years earlier when as an 8 year-old child (Heather Schwartz), her crazed mother (Marilyn Dodds Frank) smashed her head into a mirror, calling her a “little whore” because she was putting on make-up.
Living independently with guide dog Ralphie, Emma’s sight was slowly being restored after a corneal transplant operation. While still experiencing problems with her sight from a phenomenon of “perceptual delay” (she was exasperated: “I can’t see things that are right in front of me, and I can see things that couldn’t be there”), she became a ‘witness’ to a murder six weeks after her operation. She heard noises upstairs from her victimized apartment neighbor Valerie Wheaton (Joy Gregory) – who it was learned two days afterwards was strangled, then raped and had her wrists slashed (postmortem), and was left in her bathtub with a Russian cross necklace.
There was a second similar murder of Nina Getz with the same circumstances. Emma reported the incident to smart-mouthed, skeptical and cocky Chicago Detective John Hallstrom (Aidan Quinn), who was assigned to investigate. Sarcastically, she told him that she “saw” a mysterious and shadowy man descend the stairs – sensing his strong soapy and sweaty smell and remembering his voice (he whispered to her: “Yeah. It’s all right. I took care of it. Go back to bed”). It would be the next morning until what she saw, the killer’s face, was registered – but with other odd flashbacks, it was unclear what her blurred visions or sightings actually were.
Emma reported that the dead neighbor had a “noisy lover” – named “Oh, baby!” During the case, Hallstrom’s dirty-minded buddies at the police station kept teasing him about his romantic interest in his pretty witness: “We’ll throw in a C-note if you sink the salami,” and his boss angrily urged: “Why don’t you just go ahead and f–k her and get on with the goddamn case!”, although he claimed he was going by the book: “You think I’m gonna waste this body on a ball-bustin’ blind broad who can’t see it?”
As he pieced together clues with Emma, the detective realized the killer drained his victims of blood after raping their dead bodies: “This guy just wants a body, a f–kin’ blowup doll that won’t fly out the window when you squeeze it too hard.” While the killer appeared to stalk the semi-defenseless but feisty Emma – the case’s dubious but “key” witness, Hallstrom eventually made love to her (although he claimed: “I don’t want to f–k her”), in the predictable romantic and sexy sub-plot, temporarily sidetracking the homicide case.
After their second passionate love-making, she told him: “I think I could fall in love with you,” although she soon doubted his sincerity when he became a busy workaholic after more victims were located – a third victim Margaret Tattersall (Lucy Childs) in Milwaukee, and a fourth in Indiana. She confronted him, called him a “prick,” and threatened for him to stay away:
“What the hell am I to you? One of your little conquests? I’ve seen your friends smirk at me.”
Red herrings were proposed to throw the viewer off, including the implication that Emma’s eye doctor Dr. Pierce (Peter Friedman), a spurned paramour, was the killer. The case discovered a mix-up regarding Emma’s address in her hospital file – the cause of the erroneous murder of Emma’s neighbor Valerie. The killer’s victims, except for Valerie, were all people who had received donated organs (corneal transplant for Emma, skin grafts for Nina, kidney transplant for Margaret, and a heart transplant for the fourth victim) from deceased donor Leslie Davison, a girl the killer had been obsessed with.
The murderer was eventually identified as Neal Booker (Paul Dillon), a quiet and unassuming orderly at the hospital where Leslie had been a nurse and where Emma had her eye operation. In the conclusion, Emma stood face-to-face with the delusional murderer in a garage across the street from his home – he at first thought Emma was Leslie. She fought him off, as he threatened: “I’m taking back the eyes you stole” – until she shot him point-blank, after which the police arrived. Emma and Hallstrom was reunited – and they open-mouth kissed before they walked off to breakfast.
Director: Michael Apted