Film Reviews

Netflix Review: Calibre Wrings Exquisite Tension Out of a Remarkably Simple Premise

Not to be too precious about this, but if you are thinking about watching the new Netflix Movie Calibre whatever you do don’t watch the trailer. It gives the whole film away. In the below review, I’ll try to avoid that same mistake and keep the spoilers to a minimum. 

Earlier this year, Netflix’s The Ritual sent four friends into the Scandinavian woods to confront demons, both metaphorical and literal. Now, the streaming service is up to its old tricks again with Calibre, except this time it’s Scotland, not Sweden, and there are no literal demons to be confronted. The horror on display in Calibre is entirely human as a hunting accident gone wrong sets two friends on a path toward moral and physical destruction.

It all comes to us from the mind of Matt Palmer, a Scottish writer-director making his feature-length debut. He reportedly spent 9 years trying to get the film made, and he clearly put that time to good use, crafting a flawless thriller about not only the tension of an impossible situation but also the class divisions it touches on.

The plot: Marcus (Martin McCann) and Vaughn (Dunkirk’s Jack Lowden) are incredibly loyal, lifelong friends who just need a break from the big city. In Edinburgh, Marcus is a well-connected and wildly aggressive financial analyst and Vaughn is newly engaged with a baby on the way. They decide to take a break from it all and head up to a Scottish Highlands village for a weekend hunting trip.

Small problem: Vaughn has never been hunting before. What could possibly go wrong?

Before they even get to the woods, though, they spend an evening at the local pub. When Kara (Kitty Lovett) and Iona (Kate Bracken) walk in, Vaughn plays reluctant wingman to Marcus’ horndog act. The elders mill around in the background of the pub, clearly suspicious of these new guys flirting with their women. Marcus is warned twice to back off, yet never does. Moreover, we learn the village’s economy has been decimated by the opening of a nearby country club. When a polite fella named Logan (Doctor Who & Defiance’s Tony Curran) offers to accompany Marcus and Vaughn on their hunt as a local expert his desperation for work sadly fails to pierce Marcus’ thick exterior.

Such a shame. Had they accepted Logan’s offer they never would have had that hunting accident. Then again, without the accident there’s no movie. There’d just be Scottish people from different castes glaring at each other in a pub. As is, the accident which transpires enflames the already existing tensions and sets the story on a dual track, teasing the possibility of Marcus and Vaughn getting away with it as well as the looming dread over what the locals might do when or if they find out what happened.

Palmer and his cast handle it all quite beautifully. Lowden, in particular, brings great empathy to his character’s journey through the emotional ringer, and Curran, as per usual in his stellar career, communicates so much with just his soulful eyes. Cinematographer Márk Györi drapes every image with a tone-setting “autumn-chill,” as Variety put it. Palmer’s direction in combination with Anne Nikitin’s mournful score turns one of the most important moments in the third act into a haunting, unspoken prayer for forgiveness. Bigger things clearly await all involved.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Calibre takes a remarkably simple premise and wrings as much tension out of it as possible without ever resorting to extreme cliche. Director Matt Palmer even manages to work in some of-the-moment class commentary, making for a better than usual Netflix Original.

RANDOM PARTING THOUGHTS

Palmer on set with Lowden
  1. One side-effect of Palmer taking 9 years to find the funding for the movie: there are now 19 credited producers, the majority of whom carrying the ceremonial Executive Producer credit.
  2. Calibre debuted at the Edinburgh Film Festival, where it won Best British Film.
  3. The title of the film is the British English version of “caliber” and likely serves the dual purpose of referring both to the internal diameter of a gun barrel as well as the caliber of a person’s character.
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4 comments

  1. For me, it didn’t really work because I felt no sympathy at all for the two. I know we’re supposed to feel bad for the one guy because it all started off as an accident, but his complicity in everything else afterwards negates that pretty quickly.

    1. I get that. I’m sympathetic to the guy who does the shooting accidentally, but if you don’t feel anything for either of them the film’s a lost cause. I thought the opening where the one guy sleeps with the girl and the engaged one doesn’t was a clear attempt to align our sympathies, but it’s also risky because he goes a long damn time before telling the poor girl he’s been leading her on.

      1. Yet, sadly, Tau is the one trending on Netflix right now. To be fair, I’ve only seen Tau’s trailer and bowed out. Looks super schlocky, and I’ve seen far too much of that kind of middling Netflix fare this year.

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