While Hollywood continues to wallow in dire thrillers, some of the best edge-of-the-seat movies of recent years have come from France - 'Swimming Pool', 'Read My Lips' and '36' among them. While 'The Serpent' owes much to the super far-fetched scripts of the west coast, it's one of those ludicrous films that you find yourself sucked into.

Successful fashion photographer Vincent (Attal) is in the middle of a nasty divorce - but he's still living under the same roof as wife Hélène (Haapkylä) and their two children. Just when it looks like Vincent's problems can't get any bigger, he crosses paths with former classmate Plender (Cornillac). An outcast at school, Plender is now a successful private investigator. He's also a blackmailer and a very, very disturbed man.

'The Serpent' starts off like another low key French thriller, but if it's an over-the-top treat you want stick with it, because director Barbier pulls out all the stops. This is a film where the storyline is so silly that you'll whoop with delight. An example? A man who can't even keep a pet budgie in a cage at the start of the film finds it within himself when the chips are down to jump out of a top floor window while in police custody and land on a scaffold feet away. It's that kind of movie.

Aside from the huge plot jumps, much of the film's appeal is down to the poles apart performances of Attal and Cornillac. As the victim Attal is suitably crumpled and increasingly wild-eyed as he tries to turn the tables on his aggressor. But his performance is upstaged by Cornillac, who is so creepy as the mother-obsessed ex- Legionnaire that Hollywood's should come calling for him before too long. They'll probably remake this while they're at it too.

Harry Guerin