Directed by Will Jewell
Renovation work can be murder. In this horror-thriller, from Wales, five builders are bought together to do up a grotty farmhouse in the arse-end of nowhere. Among them are Bob (Speirs), Jim (Reilly), Dave (Thomas), Steve (Palmer Rothwell) and Viktor (Bogdan), on the job. However, while the snobby owner Simon (Guthrie) needs them to do his work, he has no intentions of treating them as his equals. And in the mouldy portacabins he makes them call home, tensions soon start to simmer. Then when Simon is unable to pay them, due to the sorts of dodgy dealing only the very wealthy can do, things go from a union issue to something much darker. Auf Wiedersehen Pet, this is not. Blood spills and a series of difficult moral choices follow.
Or at least they should. The big problem with Concrete Plans is the dilemmas are transparently written to be that. Actions are carefully balanced out, so you see the class conflict over the characters, and the dynamics are so distractingly over the top that the film seldom transcends its themes. Simon is a condescending dickhead of the highest calibre: a tax-avoiding parasite who lives off his family inheritance and views the others as muck. There are attempts to humanise him, with hints towards traumatic events during a short-lived military career. Nonetheless, it is hard to feel anything beyond relief when bad things happen. On that point, when it finally comes the moment of escalation is too telegraphed to have the sort of matter of fact impact it may otherwise have. It provides a literalisation of the same themes we have seen amplified during the first half and unfolds almost entirely as you’d expect. A damp love plot between Viktor and Simon’s wife offers some drama, but consists of the sorts of quiet, longing glances that you’ll have seen before in other forbidden love style stories. Its payoff also feels unearned.
It’s a shame, as the basic foundations are strong. It’s a small-scale flick, and the intimate focus could make for some good paranoid storytelling – as the different cast members have to figure out who will turn on who first. True to this, there are some exciting moments of conflict, with each anticipating the others’ next moves – cardplayers trying to identify bluffs. It never meets its Coens-esque potential though, and where the pressure should be mounting it fizzles out with laboured pacing and repetitive confrontations. As a state of the nation piece, Concrete Plans is too in yer face to deliver, hammering its point about the have and have-nots in a little too loudly. It’s rarely emotionally complicated enough for the premise to be exciting – with its simplistic message undermining its format. Hence it falls upon the story’s twists and turns to pick up some of the slack, though it’s too workmanlike to do so. Yet the builders make for a decent team, with Spiers, in particular, standing out. He embraces the tragedy of his part: a peacekeeper who tries to keep smiling no matter how bleak it looks. His balance between managing the expectations of the others, while also trying to keep them motivated, makes for a relatable character conflict, worthy of a better movie. Largely owed to him, and some of the boy’s banter, there were moments during the third act in which the pressure cooker scenario grabbed me. There’s also something sad about how low the stakes are. I also liked that it didn’t overplay its violence, favouring a less sensational style. Still, as the credits rolled, I also couldn’t help but wonder if that was it.