Matt Palmer’s debut feature Calibre is a tense, brutal thriller set in the rural Scottish Highlands. It boasts meaty performances from local talent Jack Lowden and Martin McCann as Vaughn and Marcus respectively, two childhood friends reunited for a weekend hunting trip. Vaughn is hesitant, now settled with a child on the way, while Marcus is raring for it and well-prepared – or so he believes.
It’s a boisterous start – the two reconnecting in an alcohol-fuelled frenzy at the expense of the hostile locals – that turns sour the next day as the hangover leads to disaster when the deer Vaughn stalks and shoots turns out to be a child. The panic quickly sets in, sparking an erratic chain reaction that feeds lie into lie, Vaughn and Marcus deeply unprepared for what’s to come. In the running for the prestigious Michael Powell Award at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, Calibre is demanding, the barren landscape harsh and unpredictable, Palmer shooting close up with handheld cameras to accentuate Vaughn and Marcus’ deteriorating grasp of their own lives as the situation intensifies. It’s hard to watch at times, packed with tension and an atmosphere that’s forever swelling.
Lowden and McCann deliver the wares, particularly the former whose Vaughn is racked with blame, having renowned control to the more reactionary Marcus and now along for the ride, nowhere left to turn. Marcus is the more changeable, McCann inhabiting this well, physically and mentally. The locals, played by a varied Scottish cast, are resilient. Their discarded town, to some valueless and irretrievable, is all that matters to them, and it seems as though they’ll do anything to protect it and all those who live their, no matter the cost.
The structure of the plot is similar to many thriller that have come before, yet Palmer – with help with the of a strong cast and a score that strengthens its hold on the film as events unfold – manages to put his mark on it. The twists that do occur mostly come without notice, and the fact that a large portion of the film is set at night, when characters are scared, caked in mud and lit by torchlight, instills a sense of unease and claustrophobia within the audience. To that end, the horrors are mundane, ones that can be empathised with, making the film all the more palpable. Calibre is a thriller, but one that’s rooted in reality rather than the fantastical or absurd; edgy and tragic.
Jamie Neish | @JamieNeish