Diagnosis: Chills

Article excerpt

"SAFE"

R, 1995, 119 minutes, Columbia/TriStar Home Video, closed-captioned, priced for rental

Artist, semiologist and filmmaker Todd Haynes takes what might have been a deadly disease-of-the-week movie and turns into a chic postmodern chiller. "Safe's" ostensible subject - an environmental illness known as multiple chemical sensitivity - is merely a starting place for this mesmerizing horror movie, feminist tract and medical mystery.

Julianne Moore, so underused in "Nine Months," brings seemingly endless shadings to the part of Carol White, a mousy redhead who thinks she's found safety as an idle trophy wife.

Actually, Carol is in great danger. Her newly decorated tract mansion is a veritable haunted house of invisible chemical residues. Silver polish, her husband's deodorant, hair spray, fumes from the new furniture - all are slipping into Carol's pores and poisoning her immune system. Her debilitation begins with a polite, girlish sneeze, progresses to headaches and nosebleeds and finally culminates in bone-rattling seizures.

Her husband, Greg (Xander Berkeley), suspects that the headaches are of the "Not tonight, dear" variety, but he becomes caring and concerned in his awkward way as her symptoms become more alarming. …