ACTOR Brady Corbet makes a bold, confident entrance into the world of directing, drawing on history, literature and cinematic form to tell the story of how a child would become a fascist.

Adapted from Jean-Paul Sartre’s short story of the same name, this emphatically theatrical film told in stages or, rather, tantrums – First Tantrum: A Sign of Things to Come, The Second Tantrum: A New Year et al.

This is its way to frame the upbringing of Prescott, the baby-faced son of a stuffy American diplomat (Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham) for President Woodrow Wilson and stern German mother (The Artist Oscar nominee Berenice Bejo) in France towards the end of the First World War.

It starts off innocuous enough as Prescott misbehaves around the house and grounds, throwing rocks at nearby soldiers. “He’s only a little boy,” remarks Robert Pattinson’s family friend who comes off almost like a polite version of Richard E Grant’s Withnail.

But the boy’s angelic face and childhood innocence conceals the fascist monster that would materialize later in life that we will only briefly glimpse, shaped partly by his parents discord and the political turmoil that surrounds him daily.

It’s a story told in claustrophobic rooms and darkened shadows, with a handsomely crafted horror-tinged atmosphere that blends an intoxicating sombreness with a menacing foreboding. Corbet exhibits a keen handle on unsettling tone and a good eye for framing intimate conversations to make even the everyday compelling.

From moment one it grabs you, with its intro of stark historical footage overlaid with a distinctive score by none other than pop icon turned avant-garde composer Scott Walker that will punctuate the rest of the narrative.

That striking, jabbing music gives the film much of its bold personality, evoking Bernard Herrmann’s meritorious composition for Alfred Hitchcock or Jonny Greenwood’s scintillating work on There Will Be Blood.

That score is expertly utilized, making it feel comfortably like an arthouse horror piece as much as it is an imagined but heavily influenced historical document. It’s also not afraid to offset the music with deafening silences, elevating both the dialogue and the sense of unease even further.

Echoes of Michael Haneke’s work, particularly the Palme d’Or-winning The White Ribbon, as well as this year’s starkly terrifying religious horror The Witch can be found in this striking transportation to a bleak time and place.

There’s no doubting it requires patience and commitment as Corbet seems fascinated with letting his stylistically framed shots linger and weighty silences hang. But it’s hugely rewarding to those willing to embrace its temperament and grand ambition, laying the groundwork for even greater things to come from this first-time director.