If films have taught us anything, it’s that the odds of lasting happiness are stacked against urban yuppies seeking peace in the countryside, and so it is once more in “Wreckers.” Playing not unlike critics’ darling “Martha Marcy May Marlene” with the genders flipped and the weather gloomier, writer-helmer D.R. Hood’s intriguing, well-acted debut draws shifting lines of conflict between its clean-scrubbed central couple and the black-sheep brother who invades their bucolic bliss, before losing steam in the third act. Chilly pic reps a tricky sell even to home auds, although rising star Benedict Cumberbatch might lure some.Per press notes, Hood claims to have grown up in an English village similar to the sleepy Fens hamlet depicted here, and her film is clearly posited as a contempo take on a grand British tradition of rustic what-lies-beneath storytelling, dating back to radio soap “The Archers” and beyond. There are tonal parallels here with Ali Smith’s 2005 novel “The Accidental,” as the pic mistrustfully regards city-dwellers’ community-minded affectations in such environments. The narrative wastes little time establishing the fragile marital setup of ostensibly still-smitten Dawn (Claire Foy) and David (Cumberbatch), who have recently moved back to David’s gray childhood village to start their family — a project that an early scene in a fertility clinic establishes has been struggling to reach fruition for some time. The move, meanwhile, appears to benefit workaholic academic David more than it does schoolteacher Dawn, who’s frequently left alone to handle the challenges of renovating their crumbling country pad. When David’s scruffier brother Nick (Shaun Evans), a soldier on leave from Afghanistan, turns up unannounced on their doorstep, it doesn’t initially seem odd that Dawn is happier for his company than her husband is. It’s not long, however, before the severely PTSD-afflicted Nick begins dredging up unwelcome family memories that suggest the David whom Nick grew up with is very different from the man Dawn married. The behavior of all three principals takes a funny turn, in ways that feel alternately unsettling and artificially script-induced. If Hood gradually runs out of ways to bend this brittle character triangle — Nick’s arc is unsatisfyingly curtailed as the script shifts focus to lesser catalysts in Dawn and David’s marriage — she deserves credit for building and maintaining the film’s impressively musty mood, as well as for drawing a trio of smart, splintery performances from her bright young leads. Evans is particularly impressive in a tight, nervy turn that resists the role’s potential for wild-eyed showboating. Efficiently edited production makes the most of clearly limited resources (we never see the exterior of the couple’s house, for one thing). Annemarie Lean-Vercoe’s intelligent lensing is seasonally evocative, which is to say mostly overcast, while Andrew Lovett’s score, with its unexpected inflections of fiddle and accordion, strikes an ironically pastoral note.
An Artificial Eye presentation of a Likely Story production. (International sales: Content Film, London.) Produced by Simon Onwurah. Directed, written by D.R. Hood.
Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm), Annemarie Lean-Vercoe; editor, Claire Pringle; music, Andrew Lovett; production designer, Beck Rainford; costume designer, Rebecca Gore; sound, Ben Collinson. Reviewed at London Film Festival (New British Cinema), Oct. 24, 2011. Running time: 86 MIN.
Claire Foy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Shaun Evans, Peter McDonald, Sinead Matthews, Nicola Green, June Watson, Georgie Smith.