Dr. Patricia Farrow (Catherine Kellner) is a pretty, prim blonde and in a lesser film would waste no time at all before hopping on top of Morris (Justin Kirk), a fascinating mental patient who looks like Jude Law after far too many sleepless nights. But Outpatient sets up the peculiar romantic tension between these two, lets them dance around each other (figuratively and literally), and then leads us in directions we never saw coming. It's a psychological thriller that, to its credit, is far heavier on the psychological than the thriller; we end up so caught up in the plight of poor Morris that even as we grow to fear he could be a killer, it's mostly for his sake we hope he doesn't cut anyone's throat.

There's a touch of the original Psycho to Outpatient, both in the way it forces us into sympathy with its awkwardly charming, possibly deranged antihero and in the way its artfully tuned, thriller plot begins to grind a bit in the final reel. Outpatient's home stretch explains away the mystery in the perfectly rational manner most audiences would probably demand; but until that moment, it's the perfect balancing act between rationality and madness that has kept us on the edge of our seats. Time will tell if writer/director Alec Carlin has a Vertigo in him, but if he has scored his Psycho in his feature debut, he could do a hell of a lot worse. (Greg Stacy) (Lido Theater, Sun., 2:30 p.m.)

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