It’s easy to tell someone we’ll do anything for family when it’s what we’re supposed to say. That’s the expectation. That’s normalcy. And the majority of us never have to test those words anyway. We don’t all weigh the risk to our lives by donating an organ or financial security by re-mortgaging a home. But those acts do loom above us. So does tough love. “You want to live under our roof? Then abide by our rules.” Enforcing that line is where things get hard because it hurts to put the group above any individual. It just might be the first step to their salvation, though, since you’re neither giving up nor closing the door on a return. You’re simply doing what you think is right and necessary.

Writer/director Christian Sparkes knows such a decision isn’t without regret, however. It also isn’t without an aftermath that could potentially spiral out of control. So he ensures that Stephen (Will Patton) and Karen Davis (Vickie Papavs) live with what they did every single day of their lives whether they try their best to forget or find themselves staying up at night thinking about nothing but. And as more time passes, other choices concerning family inevitably arise. How long must you spend without contact before it’s okay to contemplate moving on? If Chris (Mark O’Brien) goes a year without checking in, is it okay to believe he won’t? That might be a painful realization, but they still have his brother Jeremy (Connor Price) and each other to consider too.

Hammer is filled to the brim with these types of impossible situations that put love and self-preservation at odds with each other. Some might even say there are too many once we learn how every character on-screen will eventually bring up the topic of family and sacrifice whether it’s Samson (Curtis Caravaggio) and Debbie (Lara Jean Chorostecki) sharing an anecdote about saving their baby (after almost killing her) or a couple in a pawn shop judging a customer’s parenting skills for raising a criminal while they willfully steal something from him. It’s kind of the point, though. Sparkes is leaning into the complexity of these blood relationships and showcasing how we interpret actions differently depending on what side we sit and hindsight. We can learn from our mistakes.

And because every character involved surely made more than a few, there won’t be any bids for absolution. There arrive moments for understanding (and maybe seeds of reconciliation) instead. Chris needed to leave in order to see the damage he caused. Stephen needed him gone to recognize how much he truly cared. Did either use that knowledge to muster the courage to pick up the phone? No. It did, however, allow them to better comprehend the situation objectively and see that fault is never fully placed upon one person’s shoulders. So when Stephen inexplicably watches Chris run a red light on a motorcycle, leaving traffic to follow him isn’t even a question. He helped his son when he told him to go and he’ll help him again now.

Chris desperately needs that assistance too considering he’s running from a botched drug deal that’s left one dead and another on his trail for retribution. It was supposed to be a quick, victimless robbery that left all involved anonymous until Adams (Ben Cotton) speaks the obvious aloud: who knew they’d be where they were besides them? Emotions turn, guns are drawn, and three friends end up destroying everything in seconds. Why was Chris even there if what he says is true about turning his life around? Why would he betray one of the few friends he still had left in Adams when he was getting money out of the deal anyway? Family is of course the cause yet again, but will it also prove to be the answer?

What results is a genuinely suspenseful ride thanks to all the moving parts and multi-layered motivations. Stephen has just been asked by his wife to let her father move into Chris’ room and he’s not ready to take such a permanent step where the future of their child in their life is concerned. Jeremy is trying to explain how his brother feels now that his parents seem willing to listen just as Adams comes to take him hostage. And Chris is empty-handed upon realizing he doesn’t remember where he left Lori (Dayle McLeod) and the bags of cash when hiding them in a cornfield during his hasty retreat. All Stephen and Chris have to get Jeremy back is thus a bluff to buy more time. A reckoning approaches.

At only 82 minutes, Hammer contains very little that isn’t meticulously drawn by Sparkes as relevant to the whole—much of it occurring on the edge between rage and forgiveness to build a compare and contrast exercise upon every dynamic whether it’s father and son, brother and brother, or friend and friend. Maybe the “good” person and “bad” person are reversed in this instance. Maybe one person’s actions pushed his/her consequences onto another. There’s an element of self-editing in this respect too since reputation and image play such integral roles in our lives. It means more for a bad person to shield a good one’s fall than it does to announce his/her own ascent. And it takes more strength to admit contrition than it does to hide behind pride.

Cotton delivers an intriguing antagonist insofar as his Adams having a legitimate reason for wanting revenge. The betrayal that has him scouring town simultaneously hits his personal and professional lives, forcing him to choose which is more important. Chris and Stephen already have even if we might not know it at the start. Just because they’ve chosen family, however, doesn’t mean their path won’t also leave a few bodies. Patton and O’Brien expertly walk this moral tightrope to ensure we never waver from providing their characters empathy. Exiting unscathed physically or psychologically stopped being an option the moment Chris returned, but salvation remains attainable nonetheless if they can channel their anger away from selfish gains and towards selfless relief. They can worry about the cost later.

Hammer hits Digital HD/VOD on Friday, June 5.

Grade: B

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