In Edgar Allen Poe’s 1846 short story The Cask of Amontillado, the narrator Montresor uses the promise of a rare, vintage wine to lure Fortunato into the catacombs beneath his palatial residence, and vindictively immures him there, with the precise nature of Fortunato’s perceived offence against his host remaining a matter for obscure hints and interpretative conjecture.
In his directorial debut Bricks, film journalist Neville Pierce (writing with former critic Jamie Russell) updates Poe’s gothic tale of murder to present-day England, where all the action is confined to a basement being expensively renovated into a luxury wine cellar. Here, sensing that his hired help is upsetting the foundations of social order, well-heeled William (Blake Ritson) takes matters (and bricks) into his own hands to ensure that any hint of revolution is thoroughly contained.
By replacing the upwardly mobile Fortunato with the decidedly proletarian bricklayer Clyde (Jason Flemyng), Pierce teases out the class conflict implicit in Poe’s source material – without ever quite laying it on with a trowel. “It’s no good”, William tells Clyde, “if the brick at the bottom starts wanting to be the brick at the top. That wouldn’t do at all. Walls are there for a reason.” With these chilling words, Williams shores up the privileged bulwark of the British establishment against the possibility of any kind of change, and refurbishes a social structure in which we are all ultimately trapped.
Meanwhile the fate of an additional character, the unseen Hans Müller, encapsulates Britain’s current animosity towards EU labourers, and more particularly towards Germany – with Churchill (duly name-checked here) remaining a dubious nationalistic model for England’s moneyed elites. So although the underground space accommodating this two-hander may be claustrophobic, it is still made to resonate deeply with ‘traditionalist’ values and attitudes which continue to suffocate the UK today. William may be a nouveau riche ‘City boy’, but he has bought fully into the system, knows his place, and is committed to putting others in theirs. Pierce has since directed the shorts Lock In and Ghosted (both 2016), but Bricks is an auspiciously assured beginning – all at once a smart adaptation, a state-of-the nation allegory, and a tense black comedy of manners.