Calibre, written and directed by Matt Palmer, is not only a strong directorial debut from Mr Palmer, but also offers something I haven’t experienced in quite some time; a Netflix original film that is actually good and worth talking about. The film is small in scope, simple in concept and really well executed. I found myself pulled in by the friendly characters and subsequently gripped by the inciting incident that sets in motion actions and outcomes that shocked me and had me fully attentive right up until the very end. Anyway, let’s stop waffling on with this introduction and get to the actual review, and see what it is about this Netflix original that makes it worth talking about in a positive manner, shall we.
Two lifelong friends, Vaughn – played by Jack Lowden – and Marcus – played by Martin McCann – head up to an isolated part of the Scottish Highlands for a weekend hunting trip and the chance to catch up after not seeing each other for a wee while. But, an accident when out hunting sets in motion events that will permanently change both their lives forever, and will truly test what type of people they really are.
I went into Calibre knowing nothing. I hadn’t seen the trailer. I knew nothing of what was to come in the film. I simply knew it was a film made in my own back garden of Scotland. That was enough to make me want to see the film and hopefully go onto support it, and I’m glad I did, because this film is genuinely good, and I promise that’s not me being biased.
Starting off, I knew something bad would happen; two guys don’t go on a hunting trip in an isolated area and everything work out fine, but in the beginning, I was just enjoying the dynamic between two friends who in some ways reminded me of myself and my friend – but there was of course that lingering worry in the back of my mind that I couldn’t shake.
When it happens. When the moments plays-out and the terrible incident happens; I remember it feeling like all of the air was suddenly and immediately pulled out from my body. It was shocking, I didn’t see the moment coming and at that moment the film fully had my attention – an attention it then never lost. I feel I should point out that I intend to not spoil anything about this film, as I think it is a far more effective film the less you know about it.
What I do feel I need to say is in that inciting incident, Vaughn and Marcus do something terrible, and from that spawns an exploration of how people deal differently with such traumatic, life changing actions. Though they are best friends and have known each other since boarding school, you can already see the cracks begin to form between them, as they both deal with the situation differently. Watching as a mental chasm begins to form between two friends who only a few hours ago were dancing and drinking without a care in the world is a very emotionally compelling place to exist in – especially when you add-on top of that reactionary actions to the incident that begin to peel away any pretence and truly show you the type of people Vaughn and Marcus are – and those are people who the other might struggle to recognise.
This all feeds into the tension and the bubbling conflict that becomes the heartbeat of the film. If I were to define this film in a single word it would be: tense. Every conversation, every comment by someone in the nearby village; everything feels like a hint towards someone knowing something. Something that could only make Marcus and Vaughn’s situation worse. Not only are they on edge, but we the audience are as well. It’s certainly not a comfortable mindset to be in, but it is very effective in keeping you fully invested in the events of the film – and I was.
What I found to be the most interesting thing to come out of the moments of worry was the fact that I was worried about Vaughn and Marcus. I started the film with them; I felt some sort of connection to them, but they had also committed an unforgivable act. They deserved to be punished. However, in an almost Stockholm syndrome like effect, I found myself not wanting them to be found out – for their secret to be uncovered. Which is a response I’m still contemplating and trying to decipher what exactly it is that made me feel such a way.
I suppose it’s a testament to how well the film handles its lead characters, and three gentlemen who play a big part in that being the case are writer-director, Matt Palmer, and also the two lead actors, Jack Lowden (Vaughn) and Martin McCann (Marcus). In their individual contributions and as a collaborative unit, these three men play a vital and necessary part in making you care for Vaughn and Marcus, and subsequently then invest and root for them as the story progresses. Without that sort of reaction – a reaction that is not guaranteed by everyone who watches Calibre – I think the film would definitely not have the same type of effect as it did for me. To be blunt about it: without that bond to Marcus and Vaughn, I don’t think the film would end up being as good as it is.
When it comes to Marcus and Vaughn and in turn the larger film, I only have one major gripe and that is that I don’t think it goes far enough with them. What I mean by that is: the consequences of Marcus and Vaughn’s actions are far-reaching, and the film certainly does a good job of exploring a number of them, but for me, I was really interested to explore the psychological effects of such horrendous actions and how they would manifest.
Now, I’m not saying the film doesn’t explore the effects on Marcus and Vaughn at all, because it does – and credit goes to Jack Lowden and Martin McCann’s performances, as they both do a fantastic job – it’s just for me the film didn’t dive anywhere near enough for me to feel satisfied. The film takes a much broader approach in the exploration of the effects, and instead puts more focus on the narrative consequences. I’m always more of a character person over a plot person, so I understand this minor gripe is a very personal one that won’t be the case for most people. But I do think there was a missed opportunity when it came to diving deep into how such actions would ultimately eat at a person, and what kind of watching experience that would offer to us the audience.
Speaking of the plot though, Calibre makes some interesting decisions that ended up subverting my expectations/predictions. The film sets up little nuggets that seem like they will play into the secret being uncovered. I’d prefer to not go into specifics, as I think it would spoil how the film plays-out. What I will say is that the film did a really good job of having me think I had it all sussed out, only to surprise me and go in a completely different, more simple direction. Those little red herrings are just one of many examples of how Calibre is the sort of film that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to show off or outsmart you, but simply tell a small, compelling story.
Like I said in the beginning, Calibre is the first Netflix original film in a while that I have actually liked (the last being Annihilation). I previously went on a mini rant about the lack of good original movies on Netflix in my review of Cargo, so it’s a relief to finally watch one that didn’t leave me bored and wishing for it to be over. Instead, Calibre was a film that had me gripped and attentive throughout and in its final, haunting frame, left me to contemplate the consequences of its story. I always say: if a film can leave you thinking about it long after its done, then it’s done something worthwhile.
And so, with all that being said, I strongly recommend, Calibre. Finally! There is an original film on Netflix that is well worth seeing. Find the time, turn off the lights, sit down and enjoy what is a good film. I hope you enjoy your time with Calibre as much as I did!
I’d love to hear what you thought of Calibre and my review of it, so please feel free to leave any opinions or feedback you may have, in the comments section down below. Also, I’d really appreciate it if you’d consider following my blog and/or my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings. But I’ll bring things to a close now and stop asking of you; instead I want to give you my thanks. Thank you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you liked it enough to consider returning. Have a great day!