Director: Matt Palmer
Cast: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran, Ian Pirie, Kate Bracken
Watch Calibre online in the UK: Netflix UK
Writer-director Matt Palmer delivers an exciting and unbearably tense calling card with debut feature Calibre, a Scottish thriller influenced by the likes of Deliverance, Wake in Fright and Southern Comfort.
Lifelong friends Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann) take a weekend hunting trip to an isolated village in the Scottish Highlands, having become a bit distant from one another. Vaughn has a baby on the way with his partner, while Marcus, whose work background is in business financing, is displaying signs of getting back into bad substance abuse habits. Before heading to the forest, they make a memorable impression for various locals via a night of revelry and mild debauchery; de facto local leader Logan (Tony Curran) seems drawn to them as a potential means of bringing good relations and industry back to the area.
Heading to the woods hungover the next morning, an attempt at hunting deer goes spectacularly wrong, when entirely the wrong prey ends up in the sights of one of the two men’s rifles. In self-defensive panic, they decide to try and cover up the accident that’s taken place, but circumstances see them stranded in the village, with their increasingly large web of lies causing more and more problems as multiple mistakes come back to bite them. Soon enough, those bites become the looming threat of a bullet to the head.
It’s hard to pinpoint any single MVP regarding Calibre’s success. Lowden, the rising star of England Is Mine and Dunkirk, is fully committed to his mild-mannered man going through the wringer. He’s an empathetic presence at all times, even when it’s his actions, too, that worsen Vaughn’s miseries, not just those of Marcus. McCann, meanwhile, has a wiliness about him that brings to mind Michael Fassbender in his early breakout years. With any luck, he’ll be heading for a similar level of success off the back of this film. Palmer’s own scripting of his drama is clean and lean, with every little detail introduced paying off in the long run; Márk Györi’s chilly cinematography recalls his work on Peter Strickland’s Katalin Varga; Chris Wyatt’s editing keeps things brisk, even with a nearly two hour runtime – the film gets down to business very quickly and rarely lets up, except to unnerve the viewer more with a sudden lingering on conversations where a single poorly chosen word can serve to drive suspicion in a community on edge.
On that last note, one of the best parts of Calibre’s screenplay is that it doesn’t heavily stack things in favour of the city visitors. Unlike some backwoods thrillers, the locals aren’t monsters. They, too, are driven to unthinkable breaking points as a result of the protagonists’ decisions and wrestle with their own capacity for violence and rationale for revenge. There are no easy sides to take here; everyone is justified in their own way.
At the time of writing, Calibre has just won the prestigious Michael Powell Award for Best British Feature Film at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, where the film received its world premiere – the first Netflix acquisition to win this prize. Whether a fluke or a sign of things to come, one hopes this signals the service’s commitment to bringing some of the freshest new British filmmaking talent to a global audience.
Calibre is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.