Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"It's not that it's bad - if anything it's just upsetting - but it's also disappointing. There could have been more."

Two men travel to the Highlands for a shooting trip, the throaty roar of Marcus' 4x4 paralleled in his bluster, quieter pal Vaughn subdued in part by weight of expectation. Pharmaceutical impediment for one, impending fatherhood for the other. Things go wrong in the woods - fatally so - and thereafter their decisions compound their peril.

The scenery is lovely, though if I've read the locations listed in the credits correctly it's mostly rural Dumfries, the furthest North probably still south of Queensferry. There are some good performances - Jack Lowden's Vaughn and Martin McCann's Marcus are extensions of CVs that for both actors have all sorts of singly-named characters, various roles in things like UWantMe2KillHim? and the titular Survivalist, working together in '71, a Renquist in the Frankenstein Chronicles, a forthcoming Darnley in Mary Queen Of Scots. They're both capable, but they're not served well by a script where events go steadily downhill, but ballistically so - no real ricochets, no windage. There's plenty to be cross about though, old tensions resurface, and some leading questions are begged, but contrasts between the two and them as tourists and the locals are a bit flash in the pan.

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A d├ębut feature for writer/director Matt Palmer, you'll see nods towards Straw Dogs and The Wicker Man more in the bumpf about the picture than on the screen. The locals are hardy on what passes for the Scottish Frontier, what handful of opportunities the village might have had poached by a new (never seen) country club. They're also much more sympathetic than the wayward of Wakely or the subjects of Summerisle. There are a few reasons, but much of it relies on the instigating incident, and that Marcus and Vaughn's actions thereafter just serve to erode what fondness the audience might have held for them.

They do not choose wisely. I'm all for problematic protagonists, but the chain of events that pulls the trigger on events hinges on a particular interpretation of the Firearms Act of 1968 (as amended) and a callous disregard for the proper preparation for stalking. I must confess that there came a point where I thought my expectations were being subverted, but I had mis-counted. A bullet in, well, it's distressing enough, a bullet there is worth one in a tree. That's not the only bit of bloody calculus - there's teeth and eyes aplenty to be traded, but though the cast of this have more in common with Outlander than Game Of Thrones I was minded of the rules of hospitality.

There are moments of tension, perhaps even thrill, but Calibre basically consists of a series of traumas. Even as it comes to an ending I'd thought there'd be a reverse, a different story told by those within the story, but when it came time to turn tail the tale had no more turns. It's not that it's bad - if anything it's just upsetting - but it's also disappointing. There could have been more. There are tense, terse two-handers about men and violence aplenty, I saw Tiger Raid at the same festival a few years ago and while it had a different sandbox to play in the rule of law can be as remote in Banff as Basra.

Good actors abound, and I do wonder if there's a tighter short buried here that would start with a bleeding man being bundled into the back of van, byre-bound, betrayed by circumstance. I wonder if a different framing of a confession, one not silent save for Anna Nikitin's score, would have made a difference. I wonder if one issue might have been resolved by an agreement to notify the police within seven days. I wonder if it would have been stronger if there'd been an earlier decision to do just the right thing, or the right thing, or the just thing, and that hadn't worked either. I wonder how an incidental detail like the jukebox playing No More Heroes as the protagonists talk about their fathers was meant to play. I wonder how an army brat came to have a (Northern) Irish accent. I wonder why Vaughn isn't his second name. I wonder enough that I wonder if I'm meant to be asking different questions about seeing Calibre, about what the right thing is at a moral rather than a cinematic level. I know that I'm not.

I saw Calibre at Edinburgh's 2018 Film Festival, and as with any festival the presence of local scenery is usually an audience favourite. The film will be available later this month via festival sponsor Netflix, and so most won't see it as I did on the big screen. Which might be the issue, one of canvas, of expection - for me, for all its clarity of sight and confidence of execution Calibre just doesn't measure up.

Reviewed on: 25 Jun 2018
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A weekend hunting trip goes badly awry.

Director: Matt Palmer

Writer: Matt Palmer

Starring: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran, Ian Pirie, Kate Bracken, Cal MacAninch, Cameron Jack, George Anton, Therese Bradley, Ben Stranahan, Olivia Morgan, Rob McGillivray, Donald McLeary, Cody Mitchell, Clare Yuille

Year: 2018

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: UK


EIFF 2018

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