I’m a proud Canadian and a proud horror fan. So, I have spent a lot of time poring over the catalogues of great Canadian horror filmmakers like David Cronenberg, Bob Clark, the Soska Sisters, and more. While you can never fully separate Canadian horror from the influences of the American juggernaut next door, there are some recurring themes that Canadian horror films address. Social and physical isolation, and vastness of the Canadian landscape are often highlighted as traits that make these films unique.
After watching 2014’s Black Mountain Side I was convinced that Nick Szostakiwskyj was going to be the next big name to add to this list (so start learning how to spell Szostakiwskyj!). It delivered such a stark and vivid image of the effects of isolation, and the mysteries of the great northern wilderness that I was spellbound. So, I was very excited when I learned that Szostakiwskyj’s follow-up HAMMER OF THE GODS would be screening at Blood in the Snow.
HAMMER OF THE GODS follows the rock band Sled Dog as they take a canoe trip/spiritual journey into the wilderness of the British Columbia interior. They had a big hit single five years earlier and have been living off their one-hit-wonder status ever since. But guitarist/songwriter Eric (Rob Raco) is not satisfied with this paltry level of fame. He wants to be one of the all-time greats. So, he leads his laidback lead singer Mitch (Josh Collins) and drummer Olivia (Samantha Carly) on the same drug-fueled vision quest that his idol performed 40 years ago, before his rise to stardom. But under the influence of Eric’s LSD, the group begin to see strange creatures following them through the woods. Are these hallucinations, or have the drugs revealed something that they were never meant to see?
From the opening sequence it’s obvious that this is a beautifully shot film. The camera lingers on Mitch’s canoe as it glides along the pristine waters, surrounded by the stunningly beautiful BC wilderness. Every shot of this film is carefully framed to maximize the impact of the surroundings. In daylight, the scenery leaves you with a sense of wonder, but at night, every shifting shadow makes you question if you’re really seeing something sinister stalking the group, or if it’s just a trick of your eyes.
And the design of the “creatures” in this film really adds to this effect. These unique practical creations look incredible in the night scenes, perfectly camouflaged into the surrounding foliage. It literally looks like the trees and bushes are coming to life. They don’t quite hold up as well in the more well-lit scenes, but it doesn’t detract from the overall eeriness of the design.
There are a few things I think that could have been improved in this film. There’s a very small cast of characters, but it still feels like a couple of them were underutilized, and several of the deaths were quite abrupt and anticlimactic. You don’t really feel enough for any character other than the main two protagonists, especially compared to Black Mountain Side, where the ensemble of characters felt very authentic and their deaths felt truly tragic.
Still, I feel like this is a good effort from Nick Szostakiwskyj, and I love to see his eye for stunning natural vistas develop. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future, even if I won’t quite put this one on the same level as his debut.