Calibre: Or, the Increasingly Bad Decisions of Two Besties

When two strapping young lads go off hunting for a weekend in the wilderness of Scotland, I'm immediately hoping for a Brokeback situation. But while the bonds of friendship will be tested in Calibre, unfortunately for these two friends of fifteen years, a forbidden romance is not in the cards. Instead, writer/director Matt Palmer is more interested in examining the lines between friends and what it would take for that line to crumble.

Facts are Facts
Writer: Matt Palmer
Director: Matt Palmer
Gayly: Fantastic acting and tension
Dreadful: No sexy time romps between friends
Available: Streaming on Netflix

Marcus and Vaughn met in boarding school as kids and have been friends ever since. Marcus was older and the protector of the friendship. Vaughn jokes that Marcus looked out for him as a kid and now won't go away.  Now, Vaughn is about to get married and has a baby on the way. As Calibre begins, the two of them are going away for a weekend hunting trip. Marcus loves hunting and has been doing it since he was a kid. He wants to share his hobby with his best friend. Vaughn, on the other hand, isn’t too keen on the idea but is doing it because of friendship and the fact that he will soon be a family man.

They travel to a remote village and, on the first night, meet both the best the town has to offer in a man named Logan, and also the worst in Logan’s brother, Brian. After a night of drinking, the friends go hunting and tragedy strikes, followed almost immediately by a terrible decision that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

We’ve seen this type of movie before. Best friends, making terrible decisions that turn into more terrible decisions, compounding their problems and culpability. But in the hands of Matt Palmer and cinematographer Márk Györi, the story takes on new dimension and weight. You can feel the weight of fifteen years pressing down on the two friends, as they scramble to save themselves from the terrible situation they’ve unwittingly found themselves in. Györi’s camerawork is beautiful as he frames shots of the stark wilderness and the village, bleaching the color palette into subdued grays and earthy tones.  He brings character and life to this struggling village in Scotland and truly makes the location a second character. The film is gorgeously filmed and is a sight to see,  even when you might not want to watch what’s happening.

What I loved about Calibre was how Matt Palmer brings different elements and character to what’s a fairly typical story. He seems to be interested in the dynamics between people and how far that trust can go before snapping. Weight is also given to the people living in the remote town. Their plights are obvious. The village has seen better days and the residents are making due the best they can, working multiple jobs to keep afloat. Even though it’s far-removed from small town America, the plights of the working class could very well be applied here. Into this come two well-off blokes and while the narrative doesn’t focus on it, you can see class dynamics at play.

An early example is the first night the friends are in town. They meet a local woman named Iona and Vaughn strikes up a conversation. He tells her that the village is quaint and doesn't seem that bad, to which Iona wryly smiles and says something to the effect of, “try living here.” While Marcus and Vaughn might be here for a good time, they get to leave when their vacation is over. Interestingly, Calibre is set right before the local celebration of Alban Eiler, the Celtic name for the Vernal Equinox, when day and night are in equal length. This event sits perfectly as a metaphor for the events of the movie, where light and dark sit poised on a razor's edge. One little action can upset the pendulum.

Marcus and Vaughn's relationship sits on an uneasy ground, as they celebrate their friendship but also realize that the future will be different for both of them. Likewise, Brian and Logan are similarly poised on this edge, teetering either direction and play nice foils for the leads. The way the power dynamics between the two sets of friends changes over the course of the film is interesting, as terrible decision after terrible decision tests them.  The drama and horror of Calibre stems from these relationships and the decisions they make.

I was incredibly impressed with this assured debut. Calibre wasn’t a comfortable watch. It knotted my stomach and kept me uneasy the entire time. Yes, this is slow burn, but like a noose, it just gets tighter and tighter. This unease lasts the entire film and continues to stick with me.

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