Calibre movie review: Cleverly assembled psychological thriller with a grisly climax
Matt Palmer’s feature debut Calibre is a cleverly assembled psychological thriller that ratchets up tension at a deliberate pace before exploding into a memorable climax
Matt Palmer’s feature debut Calibre is a cleverly assembled psychological thriller-horror that ratchets up tension at a deliberate pace before exploding into a grisly and memorable climax. From the moment Vaughn steps out of his home and into his buddy Marcus’ car to head out for their impromptu deer-hunting trip, the sight of a pregnant wife suffices to assure us about what awaits the duo in the Scottish highlands. Palmer holds onto genre tropes with commendable patience, releasing them only at pivotal moments. The trick or two that he has up his sleeve careens Calibre safely away from the cliff of cliché, therefore magnifying the impact of the film, turning it into a vital entry in the British thriller genre, which continues to throw up heady surprises off and on.
As soon as Marcus and Vaughn drive into their inn at Dodge, a sleepy little town nestled in the highlands, it becomes clear that they aren’t quite welcome there. A drunken night of revelry ends in a romp with a couple of local girls, which only serves to upset the townsfolk further. Predictably, the deer hunt doesn’t go according to plan. It is cut short by a tragedy that triggers the film into a new, harrowing direction. Hereon, Palmer veers away from genre expectations, switching emotional gears expertly and plunging the protagonists and his audience down a rabbit hole of guilt, misery and utter fear.
Jack Lowden and Martin McCann’s portrayal of Vaughn and Marcus, characters whose need to balance the audience’s empathy and disgust is no easy task, elevates Calibre. Slowly and steadily, with the patience of a sculptor, Palmer works away at their personalities till their true selves are revealed to the audience. It will be a stretch to claim that the seasoned film watcher won’t be able to see the ending coming in advance. But Palmer’s unwavering attention to the dynamics between his two characters and their cat and mouse with the locals creates an atmosphere that sucks you in for good. Calibre’s great achievement thus becomes its honest denouement, perfectly justified, however brutal it may appear at first sight.
Palmer also lodges economic and moral conflicts into the narrative with great ease. Marcus comes with the promise of bringing business into the small town. The locals are aware of the possibilities and implications of his presence. Coupled with Marcus’ arrogance, it serves to heighten the confusion they face while hosting the duo. Palmer never dwells on this theme for too long. He leaves it hanging like a little, red thread over the picture, preferring to focus on his characters’ moral ambivalence following the tragedy. The locals’ confusion in particular drives Vaughn into fear and despair. The uncertainty of the implications of their actions threatens to upend their chances of making it out safely from Dodge. Do they know? What if they don’t? Should we confess? Should we not? Oh and then there’s the baby. Vaughn suffers under the yoke of the past and the future and when they become too much for him, events take an even more tragic turn. The bromance goes horribly wrong and the final image of Vaughn, his face lashed by terror and guilt, goes deeper into the conscience than any gory sequence ever can.
Throughout its runtime, Calibre appears to assure us about its purpose. The switching emotional gears and the occasional overturning of genre expectations never threatens to derail the patina of warmth it continues to offer us. So when the ending arrives, while never entirely unpredictable, it seeks to shatter the sense of warmth we’d grown accustomed to. The film could have gained by offering a few more clues about the emotional finale that awaited us. Presently, its narrative weight unbalances the overall emotional arc of the film.
But the deliberate nature of the narrative, barring these missteps, largely serves to elevate Calibre’s impact. It heralds the arrival of a director to watch out for and promises bigger roles for its two main leads. It remains a film that you should watch patiently for the first few minutes and then allow yourself to be pulled into the emotional and psychological whirlpool it conjures up very soon.
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