Coggie (Michael Coventry) is a susceptible schoolboy who lives on a council estate in Liverpool with his mother (Jane Hogarth) and older sister (Terri Reddin). He spends most of his time hanging around with friends Macca (Paul Bamford) and Ste (Tom Pauline). But when Ste’s behaviour worsens and Coggie finds himself on the cusp of a life consumed by violence and drugs, he decides enough is enough and, in the company of Macca, attempts to break free of his friend’s aggressive dominance.

The latest in the line of social realist dramas, Small Creatures at first attempts to elevate itself above its obvious shoe-string budget, but unfortunately succumbs to an over-reliance on visual metaphors and imagery to elicit meaning – a feat that’s so rarely achieved to a decent measure that writer and director Martin Wallace’s intentions feel instantly unrealistic for someone so inexperienced. They just end up feeling all too stark to make a lasting impression.

It’s particularly irritating as, while the premise might not be overly unique, Wallace shows initial promise in his setup, establishing a character that’s relatable in his desire to achieve more, but unable to do so due to his difficult circumstances and impressionable personality. But, as the narrative quickly slips into the predictable, the situations and characters become less interesting and their motivations uncertain. The film becomes more and more monotonous, culminating in and ending that’s as hokum as ever.

The standard is raised partially, however, by the quality of the performances from its cast of unknowns. Coventry, in particular, delivers a surefire turn as Coggie, an adolescent caught between his yearning to do the right thing and the often unavoidable temptations of peer pressure. Bamford and Pauline prove faithful in their respective supporting roles, but each of them find it noticeably difficult to escape Wallace’s incoherent sketches.

Small Creatures isn’t entirely unwatchable, as there’s often brief moments of promise and control hidden amongst the disarray, but these insertions come all too irregularly to better its overall affirmation. The potential within both Wallace and the three leads is unmistakable, but sadly this isn’t the vehicle that’s likely to bring them much in terms of recognition.