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Two thirty-ish childhood friends, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and Marcus (Martin McCann), meet up after a few years for a weekend away in Scotland to celebrate Vaughn’s impending fatherhood; a kind of paternity stag do. Ironically, to hunt stags — all at Marcus’ expense. But when an incident happens, their trip is turned into a nightmare that which will change their lives forever.
There’s an awful sense of inevitability from the very start of the film, even before the truly shocking and gut-wrenching inciting incident. We know something awful is going to go down. The film gripped me with a suspense I haven’t felt for a while.
The countryside, almost a character itself, oozes Britishness and is both beautiful and haunting. Indeed, the cinematography is beautiful and effective throughout, never drawing attention to itself but is quite magnificent. I particularly enjoyed one shot of Vaughn’s dinner. The sound design is understated but truly powerful and sells the film magnificently.
The writing is tight and fat-free but never feels shoehorned or with an inevitable end-point. The film is marked by highly convincing motives and actions and reactions from all of our characters throughout. This is sold by some truly phenomenal acting, including from supporting characters.
Vaughn, a shy but nice bloke; Marcus, his larger-than-life but slightly unbalanced friend. We get the impression that Vaughn had emotionally distant parents and was a bully victim; Marcus seems to have the self-confidence and slightly self-destructive side afforded by a more privileged upbringing. But almost all of this was subtly and carefully implied rather than being explicitly stated. It felt like our two leads had a lot of backstory to work with and were therefore able to deliver a very convincing throughline. The film’s first act sees them having a highly believable lad’s bonding session. If you’re a man, this kind of sesh will definitely be familiar, true man-on-man bromantic bonding.
The finale was satisfying and totally appropriate with a final shot which made us feel complicit.
Calibre reminded me of the excellent Eden Lake: a tranquil countryside retreat, an incident in a forest, local townsfolk who seems a little on edge and present a constant threat. But in recalling Eden Lake, a truly gritty and realistic movie, Calibre made me realise how theatrical Eden Lake was by comparison. I was fully gripped and absorbed, whereas Eden Lake now seems a little bit “horror movie”, emphasis on “movie”.
This was writer-director Matt Palmer’s first solo feature length film after several horror short films. So the title “debutant” seems a little inappropriate. None-the-less, this is a debut solo feature, and it a remarkable accomplishment.
This film was tense and boding from the outset. It’s hard to think of how this could have been improved. Everything was magnificent. I am sorely tempted to give this a five star rating, but I only give five star reviews to films that I immediately think, “Wow, this will go down as one of the greatest movies in history”. Calibre was too simple a story and too simply told to ever be classed as one of cinema’s greatest works. But even though Calibre may not have changed the cinematic game, it is, none-the-less, a phenomenal movie which I cannot recommend highly enough.
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