Review: Calibre hits the target in gritty Scottish drama

A Highland peat fire burns slowly. In fact it doesn’t really burn instead it smolders, a fiery glow at its heart. The dark smoke with a distinctive earthy aroma permeates everything. Calibre, set in a damp, dark, brooding and claustrophobic Scottish Highlands is no different. There are no showy, explosive car chases or action packed stunts. It to is a slow burner just like a smoky peat fire sat in a Highland hearth. You can almost taste the thick acrid smoke drifting from the television screen, slowly enveloping you, you are drawn in to this thriller.

There’s a beautiful bleakness to the close knit rural Highland community portrayed in the film. You see the villager’s on-the-surface indifference to the arrival of two out-of-town Central Belt blokes. But instantly you notice the sinister, hostile bristling at their arrival. It creeps across them like smothering peat smoke eventually suffocating the two lead protagonists in very different ways.

Movie poster for Calibre
A Netflix Original film with hints of the classic movie Shallow Grave

Calibre has strong writing and tight directing that produces an award winning performance

On its release Calibre won an award for the best British film at the Edinburgh Film Festival. That’s testament to the director, Matt Palmer, who also wrote the dark screenplay. But he’s backed by strong performances from the two leads, playing childhood friends whose lives are about to fall apart following a big mistake. Jack Lowden (Vaughn) will be familiar to fans of big budget British TV costume dramas, appearing in a recent BBC adaptation of War and Peace. Northern Irish actor Martin McCann (Carter) plays his old buddy and is definitely an actor to watch as his career continues.

You never feel sympathy for either Vaughn or Carter, at least I didn’t. And maybe you’re not meant to be sympathetic towards them. Even after their tragic, fateful, mistake there is a feeling of inevitability. Of course, that was going to happen when you’ve been drinking all night and head to the hills, still half-drunk, with shotguns in hand. My unsympathetic attitude continued as I doubted whether what we see through Vaughn’s viewfinder was ever there. It nags at you throughout the rest of the film. Was it his own imagination clouded by a hangover induced fug that tricked his mind?

Hints of Shallow Grave and The Wicker Man

Things soon spiral out of control, exacerbated by Carter’s coke induced bravado clearing his hangover but clouding his mind, and making misjudgment after misjudgment. He’s aided by Vaughn’s weak and frightened response. Jack Lowden plays this with “caught in the headlights” and “frozen with fear” Bambi like quality. Particularly appropriate as a young deer is the cause for their downfall. Their decisions, and subsequent actions, remind me of the classic film, Shallow Grave, that featured Christopher Eccleston (Dr Who) and Ewan McGregor in their youthful days.

Tony Curran (Logan) the local leader displays a gritty determination to preserve their rural way of life. He balances this with a knowing realisation that they need outside help – money – in order for their village to survive. He’s not fussed where that money might come from, even if it is from Carter’s filthy city investor chums. People with very different attitudes and morals.

The villager’s dislike of outsiders soon fans the flames of suspicion. When they invite Vaughn and Carter to a village bonfire you expect a Wicker Man style conclusion, as they turn upon their guests. Calibre is no genre pastiche of previous films, as we suddenly disappear down a different track. Battered old Land Rovers trundle down forestry roads cloaked in an ominous Highland darkness. In doing so we are bumping towards a menacing form of retribution at complete odds to a romantic Highland idyll.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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