Ferocious is a tense little thriller full of sleazy behaviour, scandal, brutality and murder.
If that seems like a tall order, writer-director Robert Cuffley (Walk All Over Me) plays it close and tight, in minimalist style, with most of the action taking place in a sleazy bar.
Up-and-coming TV star Leigh Parrish (Amanda Crew) is visiting her old hometown in an apparent publicity push to sell the image of a small-town girl who made good, at least in the strategy of her conniving manager Callum (Dustin Milligan).
The reality is a little more complicated. Leigh breaks away from the overbearing Callum to visit a grimy little strip joint called Shakers to confront the bar owner, who has been blackmailing her with a sex tape.
Unfortunately, Leigh confronts him alongside Tess (Katie Boland), a big fan of Leigh's TV work.
It doesn't go well.
Leigh and Tess end up locked in a room while the bartender Eric (Michael Eklund), who also happens to be Leigh's embittered ex-boyfriend, summons Sal (Kim Coates), the bar's sociopathic owner.
That doesn't go well either.
Cuffley largely succeeds in maximizing tension on a small budget. He does this mainly on the strength of Saskatoon-spawned Coates. He is one of Hollywood's go-to bad guys (Sons of Anarchy; Resident Evil: Afterlife) for a reason. Coates is like a cobra who could charm the snake charmer. In a movie with no computer-generated visual wizardry, Coates is his own special effect.
Eklund also does strong work as the weak-willed Eric, a would-be hero undone by a pathetic lack of character.
Amanda Crew, in the heroine role, tends to be overshadowed by her cast-mates. Even Boland, playing Leigh's willing stooge, compels our attention. It's partly because the role is underwritten, and partly because Crew doesn't step up to the challenge of wresting our attention away from her more magnetic co-stars.
Ferocious still manages to be an interesting diversion. But it doesn't quite live up to its title, with the movie's tone stuck halfway between the titular state and creeping ambivalence.
Starring Amanda Crew and Kim Coates
3 stars out of five