Dir: Jamie Blanks. US. 2000. 96mins.

Compared to most of today's amped up teen slasher flicks, Valentine stands out in its restraint and subtlety. The approach takes a while to pay off and may, together with the relative dearth of sex'n'gore, test the patience of some members of the target audience. When things do finally gel, however, the result is genuinely suspenseful and even dramatically interesting.

Valentine's moderate opening weekend in the US (an estimated $10m) may owe a lot to casting: besides Bond-girl Denise Richards, the ensemble includes Marley Shelton from current teen hit Sugar And Spice and David Boreanaz and Katherine Heigl from teen TV shows Angel and Roswell. But if the film's quality translates into staying power, this modestly budgeted - $10m reportedly - effort could turn into a money-maker for production partners Warner and Village Roadshow.

The prologue promises a fairly conventional yarn of swift and bloody revenge for a teenage slight, with a group of San Francisco high school girlfriends shooting down the school's resident nerd at the prom. Years later, one of the friends is murdered by an intruder with a creepy mask and the others - sexy Paige (Richards), popular Kate (Shelton), bubbly Shelley (Heigl) and former chubby outcast Dorothy (Capshaw) - start receiving threatening Valentine cards. It takes the friends - and the horny detective assigned to the case - almost 40 minutes to link the threats to the nerd. And rather than ramping up the tension, the film uses the time to introduce the men in the women's lives, including an alcoholic journalist (Boreanaz) and a manipulative gold-digger. It's a bold, demanding move of its audience.

While the first two murders are quick and relatively clean, subsequent attacks bring a variety of gruesome devices - including a broken shower screen, a power drill and a jacuzzi - into play. What makes Valentine (directed by Urban Legend's Jamie Blanks) stand out, though, is the way it spreads suspicion from the obvious suspect to every other male in the movie. Gradually, the women's relationships are polluted by fear, leading to a nicely staged climax that leaves the slasher's identity wide open. Interwoven into the guessing game is a look at male-female dynamics that gives the cast, particularly Capshaw, something to bite on. Shrewdly, the denouement leaves the door wide open for a sequel.

Prod cos: Warner Bros Pictures in association with Village Roadshow Pictures and NPV Entertainment. Dist: Warner/Village Roadshow (Australia/New Zealand, Singapore, Greece). Prod: Dylan Sellers. Exec prods: Grant Rosenberg, Bruce Berman. Scr: Donna Powers & Wayne Powers, Gretchen J Berg & Aaron Harberts. Cinematography: Rick Bota. Prod des: Stephen Geaghan. Ed: Steve Mirkovich. Mus: Don Davis. Main cast: Denise Richards, David Boreanaz, Marley Shelton, Jessica Capshaw, Katherine Heigl.