There’s nary a pop culture reference to be heard in Hammer, and that’s a good thing. Thankfully shorn of the stylistic affectations afflicting so many modern-day genre films, Christian Sparkes’ rural crime thriller is a throwback to the old-fashioned, lean and mean programmers that Hollywood used to pump out with regularity in the ’40s and ’50s. Delivering plenty of suspense in its taut 81 minutes, this is the sort of pretension-free film that in earlier days would have been directed by the likes of Edgar J. Ulmer or Joseph H. Lewis. Like those B-movies, Hammer lacks a big-name star. But it more than makes up for it by providing a rare leading-man opportunity for veteran character actor Will Patton, who delivers a superb, riveting turn.
Patton, whose recent credits include David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween reboot and a recurring role on the DC Universe series Swamp Thing, plays Stephen, the father of a young man who finds himself in mortal danger as a result of a drug deal gone wrong. Actually, not so much wrong as treacherous, given that Chris (Mark O’Brien, Ready or Not), Stephen’s estranged son, attempts to engineer a double-cross against his partner in crime, Adams (Ben Cotton). The ensuing violent encounter results in Chris’ accomplice Lori (Dayle McLeod) being left for dead, Chris fleeing the scene after ditching the money in a cornfield, and a seriously wounded Adams looking to exact revenge.
While stopped at an intersection, Stephen spots a desperate-looking, bloody Chris speeding down the street on his motorcycle. He gives chase and eventually catches up with his son, who initially refuses his help. But the bond between them is strong despite their tortured history, and Stephen quickly finds himself caught up in an increasingly dangerous series of events that eventually includes the kidnapping of Chris’ younger brother (Connor Price) by the vengeful Adams.
There’s nothing particularly original about the thriller, which Sparkes also scripted. But it succeeds in its modest goals, providing tense, knuckle-biting plot twists with just enough character exploration to suffuse the proceedings with dramatic texture. The emotionally fraught father-son relationship is explored to some, but not laborious, degree, with Stephen agonizingly wondering if his failures as a father resulted in Chris’ lawless streak.
One of the film’s best, most harrowing scenes involves a desperate Chris’ attempt to pawn a diamond earring, only to become involved in a heated altercation with the shop owner and his wife, whom he accuses of ripping him off. When Stephen spots what’s going on and physically intervenes, his willingness to use violence signifies just how far he’ll go to protect his son.
The supporting performances are fine, with O’Brien and Cotton making strong, highly physical impressions. But it’s Patton’s intense, vanity-free turn — his wildly unkempt, thinning hair practically delivers a performance of its own — that firmly anchors the proceedings. Although the film’s relentless pacing doesn’t allow for much in terms of emotional dynamics, he provides subtle nuances that keep you fully invested in his character, from a low-key breakdown scene that is all the more moving for its restraint to a rueful grunt in the final scene that speaks volumes. This is an actor who knows how to produce maximum effect through minimal means.
The film’s title proves inexplicable, at least until the end credits featuring a dedication to the writer-director’s father, Ian “Hammer” Sparkes.
Available on VOD
Production companies: Sara Fost Pictures, Away Films, JoBro Productions, Rhombus Media, The Screen Asylum, Woods Entertainment
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Will Patton, Mark O’Brien, Ben Cotton, Vickie Papavs, Connor Price, Dayle McLeod, Curtis Caravaggio, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Jason Weinberg, Stephen Lush, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings,Trish Rainone
Director-screenwriter: Christian Sparkes
Producers: Allison White, Chris Agoston, Jonathan Bronfman, Williams Woods
Executive producers: Mark Gingras, Kevin Krikst, Fraser Ash, Daniel Goldberg
Director of photography: Mike McLaughlin
Production designer: Adam William Wilson
Costume designer: Alison Ruth Hicks
Editor: Jorge Weisz
Composer: Jeffrey MorrowCasting: Sunday Boling, Meg Morman, Jonathan Oliveira