A hunting trip to the Scottish Highlands turns tragic in this muscular first film from Edinburgh-based writer-director Matt Palmer
Calibre's plot could be written on the end of the .22 bullet that causes all the trouble in this sinewy thriller. It goes like this: two friends go to the woods, do something stupid, pay dearly for it. Like all good genre films, the complexity of the dilemmas the characters face more than compensates for the fat-free setup. Jack Lowden is Vaughn, and the camera barely leaves his side as he kisses goodbye to his pregnant wife in Edinburgh and heads off with Marcus (McCann), an old buddy from boarding school, on a hunting trip in the deepest, darkest Highlands.
With his open face and wide, dewy eyes, Vaughn could be one of the deer they’re stalking. McCann's Marcus is more angular and feral-looking, his overly pally patter and shark-like grin doing nothing to disguise his superciliousness; if Hollywood are ever looking for someone to play Michael Fassbender’s more sinister kid brother, look no further than this charismatic Irish actor.
Writer-director Palmer has a great ear for dialogue: he’s nailed how pals with complicated pasts talk to each other and has a great sense for the menacing chatter across a boozy night in a less than friendly pub. Man-versus-nature classic Deliverance is his obvious touchstone, but Palmer’s stripped back style shoots for naturalism over John Boorman’s romanticism. Romanian cinematographer Márk Györi, meanwhile, clearly relishes the dark greens and browns of Scotland’s great outdoors, creating crisp wide shots and menacing dissolves, but he’s not afraid to go handheld and in close on the characters in their more panicked moments.
The thriller’s grip does loosen late in the game when it becomes abundantly clear where it’s all heading. A few wrinkles in the shopworn plot or even a bit of sadistic exploitation wouldn’t have gone amiss. What gives Calibre its power in the end, however, is its relentless momentum and a moral heft that should leave you uneasy as the credits roll. A walk in the woods turns tragic for its characters, but it’s no picnic for us either, just as it should be.
Calibre had its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival, with its final screening on Sat 30 Jun – more info and tickets here – and streams on Netflix from 29 Jun
Read more about Edinburgh International Film Festival at theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-festivals/film, and follow our coverage on Twitter (@theskinnymag), Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheSkinnyMag) and Instagram (@theskinnymag)
Want to receive the best of the Scottish cultural scene in your inbox every week? Sign up to our mailing list!