Certificate: 15

Running Time: 90 mins

Star Rating: 4/5

IN 1999, writer-director Lynne Ramsay made an auspicious feature film debut with Ratcatcher, an unsettling coming-of-age story set in 1970s Glasgow at the height of the dustmen's strike. Her bravura tale of innocence tainted by tragedy won numerous awards and anointed Ramsay as a distinctive new voice in the homegrown firmament. Her fourth feature, based on Jonathan Ames' novella of the same title, You Were Never Really Here, is a brutal and unflinching revenge thriller. Ramsay conjures a nightmarish vision of exploitation and degradation behind closed doors that has us biting our nails down to the cuticles. Traumatised war veteran Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) cares for his ailing mother (Judith Roberts) in his childhood home in New York. By day, he wrestles with an addiction to painkillers. By night, he accepts hit man assignments to purge the city of corruption, evil and injustice. Senator Albert Votto (Alex Manette) has a teenage daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) who is missing. The politician has received a tip-off by text that she is a sex slave in a brothel. He offers Joe a large sum of money to rescue Nina and dole out suitable punishment to the brothel owners and clientele.

You Were Never Really Here is a masterclass in tightly coiled suspense. Phoenix delivers a fearless and, at times, heartbreaking performance as a broken man, whose quest for redemption seems to be leading him down the road to hell. Ramsay captures her protagonist's nightmarish and woozy odyssey in a clinical, unfussy manner that sends trickles of cold sweat down the spine.