The Girl Who Played With FireOrange lightThe Girl Who Played With Fire is a long, windy and exhausting thriller that treads the morally murky storytelling path of its long, windy and exhausting predecessor The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Director Daniel Alfredson gets down and dirty with the dark and grisly, wrapping an episodic whodunit plotline around a cocktail of grotesqueries including rape and sexualised violence, murder, sadism, torture and ugly tattoos – sometimes all at once. Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens: these are a few of author Stieg Larsson’s favourite things.

The blockbuster novels on which these two tenebrous thrillers are based are the biggest things to come out of Sweden since – wait for it – ABBA, though the idea of combining both in the same package seems to have eluded everybody except myself (for those who’ve seen The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, imagine “Waterloo, couldn’t escape if I wanted to” played over the torture chamber scene and you’ve got yourself one hell of an ending, right there).

Larsson’s books may be more hard-hitting than their screen adaptations (I haven’t read them) but you can’t accuse Alfredson of watering down the material to cater for timid middle-of-the-road audiences. While there is nothing in this sequel that equals the eeriness of the aforementioned chamber scene at the end of the first, The Girl Who Played With Fire is a similarly tense and gooey experience.  The film has a disquieting and slowly affecting midnight-at-Dexter’s ambiance, as if it were a severed head yanked from the freezer and hung from the roof to slowly defrost above the audience’s heads, its juices slowly drip-drip-dripping onto our scalps and down our faces.

But that is perhaps over-crediting the film’s psychological impact. The story that follows the eponymous tattoo-clad computer hacker Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace) as she is framed for multiple murder and endeavours to escape the charges still feels homogenised. Alfredson is unafraid to embrace heavy material, but not so eager to take risks with the way it’s presented.

World weary investigative journo Mikael (Mikael Nygvist) – editor-in-chief of a subversive independent publication – is convinced Lisbeth is innocent, though he’s well aware that she’s also a hell-for-leather personality, the kind of person who will not only inflict spectacular revenge on a rapist – yes, yes, fair enough – but will also have the impressively malicious grunt required to stop afterwards and tattoo “I am a sadistic pig and a rapist” on his body. She’ll also periodically return in the wee hours of the morning to ensure he hasn’t visited his local laser removal surgery and undergone the presumably awkward experience of explaining to the person behind the counter exactly what he came for.

Rapace is perfectly cast and again nails the character, blending Lisbeth into a quiet and dangerous mixture of tortured past and unpredictable future.

After much dramatic umming and ahhing the ending this time around is surprisingly ho-hum and leaves some plot threads dangling. Larsson’s story components again feel convoluted and spirally, the sub-plots like small and exchangeable circles orbiting each other, and while the dark universe the picture presents provides a good whack of intrigue, its gravity and impact leave something to be desired.

The Girl Who Played With Fire’s Australian theatrical release date: September 23, 2010

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey