Directed by Cédric Kahn, starring Jean-Pierre Darroussin and Carole Bouquet.

A number of years ago, some critics and punters were very impressed with the Kurt Russell thriller 'Breakdown', where a man's wife goes missing as they drive across the Southwest of America. Fans thought it was edgy, compact and piled on the tension in ever increasing amounts. If those same people see 'Red Lights' they'll be leaving the cinema wearing oxygen masks.

The annual summer exodus from the cities finds insurance clerk Antoine (Billy Bob Thornton lookalike Darroussin) and lawyer wife Hélène (one time Bond girl Bouquet) heading to the south of France to pick up their children from an adventure camp. They leave in the evening to beat the traffic but already the omens aren't good: it's the hottest day of the year, there are two million cars going in the same direction and Antoine has been drinking since he finished work.

With the traffic wedged on the motorway, Antoine utters those famous words so beloved of terror fans the world over: "Let's get off and take the back way." And as they travel deeper in the night on backroads, so the atmosphere between husband and wife starts going downhill at breakneck speed. What begins as sniping turns into full-blown verbal dust-ups, with Antoine claiming Hélène doesn't treat him like a man and her becoming increasingly annoyed about the amount he's had to drink.

The final straw comes with another pit stop at a bar in the middle of nowhere. Hélène threatens to drive away if Antoine goes in, he summons up all the respect he has for her and takes the keys. It seems like a quick drink, but when he gets out Hélène is gone - leaving a note saying she's taking the train. Antoine's stop-off has changed both their lives forever and a nightmare is about to begin.

If there was a button on Antoine's car dashboard marked 'uh oh', it would flash the whole way through this film, such is the atmosphere of impending doom and dread that director Kahn creates. Based on a Georges Simenon novel (but shifting the action from America to France), 'Red Lights' has one glaring fault but, along with 'Switchblade Romance', it's the best hide-in-your-seat film this year. With 'Nuages' from Debussy's 'Nocturnes' scoring the drama, Kahn takes you deep into a lost night, where one drunk man must face more than just his own demons and an audience waits with ever increasing unease for the morning after.

Darroussin is brilliant as the everyman whose self-esteem and marriage have also gone south and he manages to compensate for an ending that's far too rushed. Towards the close there's a scene involving telephone calls in a bar that's far more terrifying than 100 chases in the woods and killers in the dark, and Kahn follows it up with even more chills as the wreckage of last night is put back together for Antoine. After this, however, it feels as if Kahn didn't know what to do, closing the film with a far too convenient resolution that doesn't sit with everything that has gone before.

Had Kahn got the finale right, 'Red Lights' would be up there with the best of them. But don't worry: you'll be too drained leaving the cinema to complain too loudly.

Harry Guerin