THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (15)
THE late Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy, which began with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, continues with this gritty descent into the sickening world of sex trafficking.
Set one year after the events of the first film, The Girl Who Played With Fire is another lean, muscular thriller that pulls no punches in its depictions of the violence and cruelty meted out to the morally conflicted characters.
Audiences who teetered on the edge of their seats in the opening chapter will be just as enthralled by Daniel Alfredson's film that holds us in a vice-like grip from the opening nightmare sequence to the heart-stopping finale.
Crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has not heard from computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) for a year.
He has ploughed his energy into Millennium magazine, edited by Erika Berger (Lena Endre), who is also his on-off lover, and together they are working on an explosive story about a sex trafficking ring with gossamer-thin ties to the upper echelons of power.
Days before publication, young writer Dag Svensson (Christian Thulin) and his girlfriend Mia, who brought the story to Millennium, are slain and the murder weapon is tracked back to corrupt lawyer Nils Bjurman (Peter Andersson), who is Lisbeth's guardian.
When police inspect the gun, they discover Lisbeth's fingerprints.
Inspector Jan Bublanski (Johan Kylen) issues an alert for the hacker's arrest.
However, Mikael refuses to believe that Lisbeth is capable of such an atrocity and he clashes with the cop.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth hunts down Alexander Zalachenko, the elusive figure at the centre of the trafficking ring, and his hulking henchman, Ronald Niedermann.
The Girl Who Played with Fire opens with Lisbeth in a gorgeous villa by the sea, where she has been laying low, then plunges her and the other characters into a waking nightmare.
Daniel Alfredson's film is every bit as dark, brooding and unsettling as its predecessor, with scenes of gruesome and graphic violence that are never gratuitous.
The director doesn't waste a single frame, concealing the twists in Larsson's novel until the last minute for maximum impact.
The tightly wound narrative ensures the 129 minute running time passes all too quickly, powered by an electrifying performance from Rapace as the avenging angel, who looks at herself and doesn't like what she sees after she is told in no uncertain terms, "You treat your friends like dirt. It's as simple as that."
Supporting performances are equally compelling and Spreitz essays a memorable villain, whose influence will be felt in the next film.
It will be an agonising wait until November 25 and the release of the concluding chapter, The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest.
STAR RATING: ****