Calibre (Netflix) – Film Review
Director: Matt Palmer
Cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran
by Michael Davidson
For reasons that will be explained shortly, we’re throwing out the rule book for this review. Well, perhaps not ‘throwing out’ the rule book, but definitely pencilling in an amendment to conventional structure by opening, rather than closing, with a summary. Calibre is a visceral and expertly crafted experience that won’t leave you feeling good, but what it does make you feel is tense, uncomfortable and reflective; which is an achievement in itself. I recommend it.
Now for a brief rant on discovery in film to justify the above approach. It might be the advent of YouTube that provides instant, re-playable access to content for upcoming films (trailers for trailers, trailer deconstruction, reaction videos, etc.) or increasingly adopted spoiler-led marketing campaigns, but it feels to me that overexposure to a film has a negative impact on the viewing experience. Watching Calibre for the first time benefits more from knowing less and with that in mind this review won’t spoil the film but will touch on themes, characters and plot points that I suggest discovering for yourself.
Vaughn and Marcus have known each other many years and it’s established early on that the foundation of their friendship required working together to get through some tough times. Vaughn is due to become a father and prior to welcoming that responsibility, Marcus arranges a hunting trip to a remote part of the Scottish Highlands as an era ending ritual. Despite being schooled in the same institution, the two allies appear to have forked askew in their later life choices, with Vaughn being the more virtuous and empathetic of the pair. I felt that this dynamic is great at mirroring the viewer’s own internal, conflicting conscience throughout the film.
The sense of foreboding kicks in as we arrive in a village local to a reception reminiscent of the Slaughtered Lamb from An American Werewolf in London. To add to the desperation, it is exposited that the remote area has been under the stress of financial decline for a while, reaffirmed by earlier establishing shots of beautiful yet isolated Scottish scenery. As a spectator, you feel your safety cord to the familiar slowly begin to fray; which is nothing new when setting up tension, but the horrifyingly plausible reality in which Calibre is set makes it all the more chilling.
“Unravelling narrative is incredibly effective”
After a couple of seemingly innocuous but ultimately life defining choices at the start of their hunt things go awfully awry in what, for reasons of intentional ambiguity, we’ll refer to as ‘The Event’. What follows is an edge of your seat watch while the two switch from hubris to humble in an attempt to hastily escape a living nightmare. The unravelling narrative is incredibly effective and contrastingly snowballs your unease. With each subsequent scene the would-be protagonist’s situation goes from bad to worse to unthinkable and while there is a semblance of three acts here, I found Writer/Director Matt Palmer’s structure to really elevate the experience.
The finale of the film is no less relentless, with explorations of humanity, community and justice; treading new ground to deliver a shocking conclusion. A film score can be a good tool for informing the malleable emotion of an invested viewer but the notable lack of a score in a pivotal scene later on was far more impactful.
Village ‘leader’ Logan and his stoic cousin Al (played by Tony Curran and Cal MacAninch respectively) both do an excellent job of subverting the expectations of irrational ‘rural mafia’ mentality seen in films such as Straw Dogs. The choice to write Vaughn’s character as Scottish is great for representation and offers a more grounded take on the ‘outsider’ trope often used in this genre. It’s common in film to be presented with binary factions of good and bad, right and wrong, us and them. In Calibre though, you are not provided with a hero to root for or a villain to jeer, just nuanced, well realised people with their own relatable motivations whose lives unravel as you watch on horrified all the while asking yourself ‘what would I have done?’