Squirreling away into the cinematic twilight of 2011, D.R. Hood's Wreckers shrunk in dimension next to an impressive catalogue of British debuts – from Richard Ayoade's spirited coming-of-ager Submarine to Paddy Considine's bruising Tyrannosaur – which had caught fire with critics and audiences throughout the year. Despite starring Benedict Cumberbatch, TV's current Sherlock, the film fails to register a dramatic pulse, tightening the noose around a trio of enigmatic characters who, in the interest stakes, run a close second to the peeling wallpaper. What the narrative lacks is any singularity, either in plotting or execution, despite fighting hard to shake off the resemblance to several dozen bleached, lo-fi dramas which have been nestling into arthouse cinemas recently (although many of them don't hail from the UK).
The setup is intriguing. David (Cumberbatch) and Dawn (Claire Foy) are a recently-married middle-class couple, tired of the city lifestyle and looking to start afresh in the quaint, picturesque village where David grew up. They're both teachers, eagerly trying for a baby but in the meantime busying themselves with the renovation of a multi-bedroom cottage they've snapped up. But then, out of the blue, David's younger brother Nick (Shaun Evans) turns up and takes lodgings in the house, while on leave from the army. Nick's sleepless nights and erratic behaviour suggest PTSD, but his awkward vulnerability appeals to Dawn, whom he spends an unnerving amount of time with. Slowly the cracks in these relationships begin to emerge, and dark secrets are outed...
With all that said, a clichéd opening montage (one of those family-frolicking-in-the-park scenes that every quasi-doomed protagonist has to experience at some point, whether they be on death row or struggling with the tax return) dissipates any intrigue established by the setup, and Hood's eagerness to get the plot gears shifting results in a wonky introduction that never sells David and Dawn as a believable couple. Their interactions are affectingly naturalistic, but a handful of under-the-sheets scenes don't sufficiently investigate the specifics of their relationship, which we require an understanding of when Nick's arrival begins to upset the status quo. His appearance occurs far too early to be effective, so it's a testament to the acting abilities of Evans and Foy that tensions immediately surface between the pair; she appears guarded, fearful of the man's very aura. We begin to wonder what stories David must have spun about his brother, who boasts an affable, confident exterior.
It becomes obvious that Nick's mental health is fracturing, although the ways in which Evans suggests the character's dislocation is much more impactful than the broader, more aggressive breakdown scenes which Hood's screenplay demands, and the actor often misjudges tone. The film simply doesn't require that he dive headfirst into crops yelling for the safety of his comrades; it's over-egged, and stinks accordingly. Wreckers works best when Hood allows the characters to interact organically, expressed best by a fantastic scene where David, Dawn and Nick go out for drinks with friends, including on-the-rocks couple Gary (Peter McDonald) and Gemma (the adorable Georgie Smith). Her camera roves around the table observing the little ticks and gestures offered by each character; it feels improvised, yet precise editing keeps the rabble in check. It's apparent when Hood begins to take a firmer hold on her story, as it begins to plod through trite themes, suddenly suggesting an affair between Gary and Dawn which feels like exactly what it is: a manipulated catalyst.
To reveal more of the film's direction would be to spoil some (actually glaringly obvious) plot developments, but the prevailing element of interest, and that which lends it almost must-see status, is the incredible Claire Foy. Her freckle-specked face is a genuine kaleidoscope of emotion, communicating deeply-rooted feeling through the tiniest shifts and twitches. The actress – seemingly incapable of appearing fake onscreen – emotes through every pore, displaying a keenly tuned understanding of that age-old teaching; acting is reacting. One of Wreckers' delights is simply revelling in the moments where the camera lingers on her face, observing Dawn as she listens to every sound and voice around her. Honestly, if the film were just eighty minutes of Claire Foy, it would have been infinitely more enjoyable.
Cumberbatch's patient, glassy-eyed David is a compelling presence, albeit an underwritten one, and Evans proves effective in his quieter moments, but the character's history as brothers never feels fully developed. Hood eeks out their back-story subtly, but isn't confident enough to navigate the darker streams of their past, leaving the inner demons largely closeted (it's not that I demand explanations, but the film suggests more drama than it's ever willing to payoff with). As the plot uncoils it becomes increasingly clear that this story will end exactly as it began, not only literally – for that family frolic turns out to have been a flashback – but also metaphorically, as it treads through clichés and generates not a modicum of interest: a fact made all the more depressing for the intrigue of that setup.
Research suggests that Wreckers was shot on 16mm and very probably Super-16, which was blown up to 35mm for theatrical release. The spotless 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer here is strong across the board, boasting a very well balanced contrast range, pleasingly (and unusually) natural colour reproduction and a lot less grain than you might expect for a film shot on 16mm. Impressively, the image holds its integrity even in the darkest scenes.
The only soundtrack option on the supplied review disc is linear stereo, but it seems likely that the release disc is Dolby stereo 2.0. Either way, this is a clear and well mixed track that serves the dialogue well and makes subtle but atmospheric use of location sound (wind in trees, etc.). There were no subtitles on the screener – this may be different on the release disc.
Not a thing.
Honestly, Wreckers is worth renting just to see three exciting young talents excelling their material, and acting students will find a masterclass in the form of Claire Foy. The film itself feels like a wasted opportunity, however. It's too safe in its plotting, and Hood's lack of experience can't account for the film's chronic levels of disinterest. An extras-free disc (unusual for Artificial Eye) doesn't make the package any more enticing.