Red wine pouring into a glass; crimson blood oozing from a slab of barely-cooked venison on a dinner plate; dark red paint all over the dining room walls. The colour red weighs heavily on Vaughn’s guilt-ridden mind, and all he can think about is escape.
So goes one of several hugely effective scenes in writer-director Matt Palmer’s Calibre – an indie drama-thriller that quickly establishes its own line in low-key suspense.
With its opening shots of a Highland forest in autumn, Calibre initially looks as though it might unfold along similar lines to a conventional modern horror like The Ritual – another British genre film released by Netflix. Instead, Calibre has more in common with something like John Boorman’s Deliverance: difficult to pigeonhole neatly in one genre, but subtly disturbing all the same.
Calbre sees two old friends, the quiet, unassuming Vaughn (Jack Lowden) and his wealthier, more outgoing Marcus (Martin McCann) head to the wilds of Scotland on a hunting trip. Armed with a pair of rifles and a hip flask of whisky, their plan is to shoot a deer or two and spend their evenings drinking in a village pub. Without spoiling things, it’s probably sufficient to say that the expedition doesn’t quite pan out as expected.
Thereafter, Calibre takes on a vaguely Kafka-esque air, as Vaughn and Marcus try to hide the fallout of their fateful trip to the woods from the locals. In his debut feature, Palmer confidently balances our sympathies, between the two leads – who in essence are anti-heroes at best – and the assorted beer drinkers, farmers and hunters who make up the supporting cast.
Gradually, Vaughn and Marcus’ character flaws are laid bare, from the former’s easy-going tendency to cave into the wild ideas of his friend, to Marcus’ appetite for drink and drugs; at the same time, we see how an increasingly impoverished part of rural Scotland reacts when a pair of wealthy out-of-towners start disrupting their way of life.
Lowden and McCann are difficult to fault as the two leads – particularly as they grow increasingly haunted and cornered by their own misdeeds. Tony Curran, meanwhile, is equally good as one of the pillars of the village community, while Ian Pirie is flat-out scary as his older, more intimidating brother. Running at a lean 100 minutes, Palmer’s film gives us the measure of these characters in a short scene or two: one particular sequence in a busy pub, where we’re unsure of who knows what about whom, positively hums with quiet menace.
Told with a brutal efficiency that makes the most of its low budget, Calibre is a terrific drama-thriller about suspicion and gnawing guilt. Anyone expecting a thriller packed with gore and mayhem will be disappointed, so be prepared for a movie that rewards patience and a close attention to small details.
Calibre‘s moments of outright violence are sparing yet pack a hefty punch; above all, it’s an absorbing, gripping story that shows, quiet convincingly, how one horrible mistake can lead to another, until the web of deceit becomes a tangle that’s impossible to escape.
Calibre is available to watch now on Netflix.