A lads’ hunting weekend begins with beers and banter, only to swiftly sober up when two Edinburgh townies wind up shooting entirely the wrong prey. But getting out of the woods isn’t even close to getting in the clear in “Calibre,” a sensationally well-executed nerve-mangler that ought to do for the majestic Scottish Highlands what “Deliverance” did for Appalachia.
That is, if smart genre fiends seek out Matt Palmer’s majorly promising debut feature on Netflix — where it’s set to bow globally on June 29, just one week after its home-turf premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival. That’s a mixed blessing for a film that certainly deserves the broad exposure of international streaming.
But whose natural habitat is the midnight-movie circuit: Its jackknife shocks, clammy atmospherics and head-filling soundscape would best be enjoyed (or at least endured, at its most palpitating moments) in the immersive darkness of a cinema.
Red wine pouring into a glass; crimson blood oozing from a slab of barely-cooked venison on a dinner plate
Dark red paint all over the dining room walls. The colour red weighs heavily on Vaughn’s guilt-ridden mind, and all he can think about is escape.
So goes one of several hugely effective scenes in writer-director Matt Palmer’s Calibre – an indie drama-thriller that quickly establishes its own line in low-key suspense.
With its opening shots of a Highland forest in autumn, Calibre initially looks as though it might unfold along similar lines to a conventional modern horror like The Ritual – another British genre film released by Netflix. Instead, Calibre has more in common with something like John Boorman’s Deliverance: difficult to pigeonhole neatly in one genre, but subtly disturbing all the same.
Calbre sees two old friends, the quiet, unassuming Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and his wealthier, more outgoing Marcus (Martin McCann) head to the wilds of Scotland on a hunting trip.
Armed with a pair of rifles and a hip flask of whisky, their plan is to shoot a deer or two and spend their evenings drinking in a village pub. Without spoiling things, it’s probably sufficient to say that the expedition doesn’t quite pan out as expected.
Thereafter, Calibre takes on a vaguely Kafka-esque air, as Vaughn and Marcus try to hide the fallout of their fateful trip to the woods from the locals. In his debut feature, Palmer confidently balances our sympathies, between the two leads – who in essence are anti-heroes at best – and the assorted beer drinkers, farmers and hunters who make up the supporting cast.
Gradually, Vaughn and Marcus’ character flaws are laid bare, from the former’s easy-going tendency to cave into the wild ideas of his friend, to Marcus’ appetite for drink and drugs; at the same time, we see how an increasingly impoverished part of rural Scotland reacts when a pair of wealthy out-of-towners start disrupting their way of life.
Lowden and McCann are difficult to fault as the two leads – particularly as they grow increasingly haunted and cornered by their own misdeeds.
Tony Curran, meanwhile, is equally good as one of the pillars of the village community. While Ian Pirie is flat-out scary as his older, more intimidating brother. Running at a lean 100 minutes, Palmer’s film gives us the measure of these characters in a short scene or two: one particular sequence in a busy pub,. Where we’re unsure of who knows what about whom, positively hums with quiet menace.
Told with a brutal efficiency that makes the most of its low budget. Calibre is a terrific drama-thriller about suspicion and gnawing guilt. Anyone expecting a thriller packed with gore and mayhem will be disappointed. So be prepared for a movie that rewards patience and a close attention to small details.
Calibre’s moments of outright violence are sparing yet pack a hefty punch. Above all, it’s an absorbing, gripping story that shows, quiet convincingly, how one horrible mistake can lead to another. Until the web of deceit becomes a tangle that’s impossible to escape.
In the end it’s all about the choices that make or break a person. Or is it?
When Vaughn (Jack Lowden), cradling his newborn child, stares chillingly at the camera for a few seconds. He must have been lost in the puzzle that begins during a nightmarish Highland deerstalking trip.
Writer-director Matt Palmer’s Calibre, now streaming on Netflix, dwells on the premise of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and transcends into a grim tale. That about the unfortunate choices Vaughn and his friend, Marcus (Martin McCann), make after a mind-numbing mishap. Their guilt, angst and helplessness are magnified against the backdrop of an economically stagnant Scottish countryside where the locals are the law of the land.
In its 1 hour 41-minute runtime, Calibre, this year’s best British feature at Edinburgh film festival. That takes sharp turns through the woods dotted with tall, dark trees and the sombre village in the vicinity, often captured in brilliant low-light cinematography.
Palmer’s debut feature tests the limits of humanity, friendship and cruelty. And shows two young men swept away by the currents of a series of cover-ups and their consequences that deny them the courage to face the truth.
But that was not how it was supposed to be.
When city folks Vaughn and Marcus, nursing a big hangover. That after a night of drinking in the company of two women, ventured into the woods, little did they know that Palmer had made them the prey in a merciless script.
The exploration of human minds in circumstances beyond control — partly because of bad choices. Partly owing to the strong flow of events — makes Calibre an exhausting, yet thrilling, experience.
Palmer teases the audience with a sudden jolt every now. And then, including in the last scene where the stillness of Vaughn becomes a haunting image.
Scarred for a lifetime under the burden of guilt, Vaughn looks at the camera — two seconds too many! As the audience expects another crescendo, or maybe an implosion. But this time the camera fades out in the dark.
Genre: Mystery & Suspense
Directed By: Matt Palmer
Stars: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran
Written By: Matt Palmer
On Disc/Streaming: Jun 29, 2018
Runtime: 101 minutes
CRITIC REVIEWS FOR CALIBRE
Feels simultaneously familiar and fresh, just like a good, solid bout of genre-tweaking should do.
Calibre [has] a pungent, intriguing layer of ambiguity that only sharpens the acute pain of the awful events so skillfully depicted.
Ben Baird’s sound design, meanwhile, is a thing of fretful beauty, seamlessly meshing a barrage of natural effects with Anne Nikitin’s creaking, squeaking, screeching score.
A tight piece of craftsmanship from top to bottom.