Left: François Ozon, Ricky, 2009, stills from a color film in 35 mm, 90 minutes. Left: Ricky (Arthur Peyret). Right: Lisa and Katie (Mélusine Mayance and Alexandra Lamy).

A STIFF DOSE of domestic melodrama topped off with a head-spinning chaser of sci-fi horror, Ricky is a celebration of a conventional virtue (parenthood) that still manages to take the road less traveled. Katie (Alexandra Lamy) and Paco (Sergi López) are two blue-collar coworkers who one day sneak away from the assembly line to fool around in the bathroom. Cut to a few weeks later, and Katie is explaining to her mature, responsible daughter Lisa (Mélusine Mayance) that the apartment’s occupancy is about to double: Paco will be moving in, and she will soon be joined by a baby brother. “We’ll be like a new family,” Lisa says.

But when young Ricky is born, the simple harmony of this fragile family begins to unravel. Paco doesn’t know how to handle the responsibilities of fatherhood, and while Katie knows the routine, she panics when she begins to glimpse mysterious bruises on the boy’s back. Katie accuses Paco of abusing Ricky. Paco is so hurt by the allegation that he leaves the apartment. Lisa, at first jealous of her new baby brother, rushes to fill the parental void. The bruises, however, only get worse, gradually revealing wings that allow the infant to fly around the apartment. As the doctors marvel, the press catches wind. Katie and Lisa are thrust into the national spotlight.

As far as plot twists go, the wings are a doozy—so unexpected and grotesque that they nearly derail the story. Until the feathers break through the skin, Ricky veers dark, lingering around traumatic narratives of abuse. Later, things skew silly, as Ricky masters the art of hovering and becomes something of a public freak show. These extreme moments undercut the pathos that director François Ozon tries to evoke from the vision of a family coping with a crisis. Here is a movie teetering between genres—no surprise, perhaps, for those familiar with Ozon’s oeuvre. In Under the Sand (2000), a missing-person drama transitions into a tale of psychological delusion when the body is never found. In Swimming Pool (2003), a writer’s rural creative retreat turns treacherous after an unexpected murder. Ozon enjoys watching characters cope with the unexpected, and he begins Ricky with an image of domestic routine destabilized by the introduction of a new father and son. If the film’s second act is too contrived by half, that’s the risk you take when you step into Ozon’s world. He’s a mad scientist set on manufacturing whole new brews. And I’ll give him this: I’ve never before encountered a film quite like Ricky.

S. James Snyder

Ricky opens December 16 at IFC Center in New York. For more details, click here.