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film review

Father Stephen (Will Patton, left) is quickly drawn into a mess when his eldest son Chris (Mark O’Brien, right) decides to double-cross a drug-dealing associate.Sara Fost Pictures

  • Hammer
  • Written and directed by Christian Sparkes
  • Starring Mark O’Brien, Will Patton and Ben Cotton
  • Classification 14A; 82 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars


Early in the new Canadian thriller Hammer, two characters wander into a field and happen upon a wild snake eating its own tail. It is not the subtlest of images in Christian Sparkes’s new film, but it is apt: Every character here piles on bad decisions with even worse ones until they become the authors of their own demise. Sparkes could have very well called his new film Ouroboros, which would have made more sense than Hammer, a title choice that goes unexplained. Unless, that is, the writer-director is referencing the intensity of his work that’s pounded onto the audience. In which case: okay, fair enough.

Chronicling one very bad day in the lives of the Davis family, Hammer traces a path of destruction sparked when ne’er-do-well eldest son Chris (Mark O’Brien) decides to double-cross a drug-dealing associate. Very quickly, father Stephen (Will Patton), younger brother Jeremy (Connor Price) and the entire criminal underbelly of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., are drawn into the mess.

Sparkes’s film, complete with half a dozen twists and more moments of coincidence than seem reasonable, could have gone one of two ways: a deadly serious genre exercise that might crumble upon the slightest inspection, or a fun tongue-in-cheek farce that plays with expectations of such down-and-dirty adventures. Given that you already know about that snake image, you can guess which side Hammer falls on.

Chris is plunged into an afternoon of ugliness.Sara Fost Pictures

But while Sparkes’ script requires a substantial amount of gullibility from its audience, it is still a mostly slick and tight invention. As Chris and Stephen are plunged into an afternoon of ugliness, the urge to scream at them for their poor choices matches the compulsion to pay careful attention to whatever fresh hell Sparkes unleashes next.

With lesser performers, too, maybe Hammer would have felt more like a gag. Yet O’Brien, fresh off a tremendous and under-seen performance in last year’s Goalie, radiates nervy energy like it was the most natural thing in the world, while longtime character actor Patton gives his wary patriarch an urgent, unshakable sense of disappointment and unease. It’s almost worth eating your own tail over.

Hammer is available digitally on-demand starting June 26

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