Producers: Allison White, Chris Agoston, Jonathan Bronfman and William Woods   Director: Christian Sparkes   Screenplay: Christian Sparkes   Cast: Will Patton, Mark O’Brien, Ben Cotton, Vickie Papavs, Connor Price, Dayle McLeod, Curtis Caravaggio, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Jason Weinberg, Stephen Lush and Deidre Gillard-Rowlings   Distributor: Vertical Entertainment

Grade:  B-

A shot of a snake eating its own tail is perhaps the most unsettling sight in Christian Sparkes’ no-nonsense drug thriller, but what the human beings do to one another is hardly pleasant either.

“Hammer” is bleak, brutal, but efficient, if technically ragged.

The picture begins with a scam gone bad as scruffy Chris Davis (Mark O’Brien) and his boss Adams (Ben Cotton) are waylaid along a deserted road, along with Adams’ girl Lori (Dayle McLeod), by a motorcyclist intending to steal their cache of drug loot.  The attempted theft goes awry, and though he’s badly wounded, Adams figures out that it was planned by Chris and Karen, and wounds her as they try to escape with the bag of cash. 

Leaving Lori and the dough behind—no chivalrous soul he—Chris takes the cycle to the small town where his estranged parents Stephen (Will Patton) and Deborah (Lara Jean Chorostwecki) live, though he’s been estranged from them for awhile.  Stephen impulsively decides to help him—family is family, after all—and they drive to the field where Chris last saw Karen and the money.  As it turns out, she’s still alive. 

Meanwhile Adams is on the warpath, roughing up Chris’ younger brother Jeremy (Connor Price) to find out where Chris is and threatening to hurt him further if he doesn’t get his money back.  That pushes Stephen, an ordinary Joe who’s actually a bit of a milquetoast, to get ever more energetic in defending his son.

Sparkes doesn’t prove terribly imaginative in constructing the episodes that he links together in Adams’ pursuit of Chris.  The kid is constantly messing up, so that dad has to intervene at the last moment to rescue him.  That happens in one of the movie’s best scenes, when Chris gets into a confrontation with a pawn shop owner and his wife, and again when the kid goes to a supposedly friendly gangster (Curtis Caravaggio) seeking help.  Stephen also confronts Adams himself when the guy gets too close.

But if the screenplay is no great shakes, Sparkes keeps the picture moving, ending—with the aid of editor Jorge Weisz—with a taut piece that comes it at a mere eighty minutes.  He also gets good performances from the two leads.  Patton isn’t given much besides a drive to save his boys to work with, but the veteran can do a lot with a little (as he’s demonstrated many times in the past), and makes the character one you can sympathize him even when he does some pretty regrettable things.  The skittish O’Brien, meanwhile, manages to make you care about a young guy who’s really kind of a jerk.   And while Cotton and Caravaggio both play to the rafters, the rest of the supporting cast is fine, though the women get decidedly short shrift.  Adam William Wilson’s production design is convincingly shabby, while Mike McLaughlin’s camerawork captures the grubbiness of the locations in Newfoundland and Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario and Jeffrey Morrow contributes an effective score.

“Hammer” won’t win any awards for originality, but it’s a compact little double-cross drug drama with some good performances to help it along.