Dir: Alex Infascelli. Italy. 2000. 90 mins.

Prod co: Cecchi Gori Group. Int'l sales: Cecchi Gori (+39 06 3247 2244). Prod: Vittorio Cecchi Gori. Scr: Sergio Donati, Alex Infascelli, based on the book by Carlo Lucarelli. DoP: Arnaldo Catinari. Prod des: Eugenia di Napoli. Editor: Valentina Girodo. Music: Massimo Volume. Main cast: Lorenza Indovina, Claudio Santamaria, Rolando Ravello, Andrea di Stefano, Dario D'Ambrosi, Marco Giallini.

Better late than never, Italian cinema gets its teeth into serial killers. And - thanks to the sure cinematic instinct of first-time director Alex Infascelli - it does it rather well.

Italian critics have objected that the film is all style and no substance, but one out of two is not a bad score these days. In fact, the strengths of Almost Blue are the weaknesses of most contemporary Italian films: stylish camerawork, a throbbing underground soundtrack that spars neatly with the on-screen action, and some convincing performances - not least from the virtually unknown Lorenza Indovina in the lead role. Italian audiences have responded fairly well; word of mouth may give the film a longish run, though it's hardly Christmas fare.

The plot is classic cat-and-mouse stuff. Somebody is going around Bologna murdering students, stripping their clothes off, ripping out their piercings and generally having a good time. Detective Grazia Negro (Indovina) is sent up from Rome to flush him out; as a woman, she has to work doubly hard to prove herself, etc etc. Though the identity of the killer is revealed around halfway through, tension is maintained with some neat twists; indeed, Almost Blue comes as close to being scary as anything seen in Italy since early Dario Argento. Infascelli's models, however, are strictly American, from Seven to Fargo.

Not everything works; the dialogue needs to be sharper, and the final shot goes for Marilyn Manson posturings over dramatic resolution. But the film's visual verve (memorable images abound, from the fingers typing on a bloody keyboard to a strobe-lit piercing scene) and its command of rhythm make for an entertaining ninety minutes.

Part of the buzz created by Almost Blue has been generated by an imaginative, much-visited website (www.almostblue.it), where, in addition to the usual audio and video clips, cybernauts can consult biographies of well-known serial killers, with a constantly updated headcount of their victims. Selling abroad is not a Cecchi Gori strong point; with the right kind of push, though, there's no reason why this film shouldn't find buyers, especially in continental Europe and Latin America.