Edinburgh friends Marcus and Vaughn head north on a hunting trip to the Highlands to celebrate the latter’s impending fatherhood, but the trip soon turns deadly after they decide to cover up a tragic accident. As suspicion descends on the village, the already untrusting locals make the lads’ stay as unpleasant as possible as their secret is threatened with being uncovered.
Country yokels versus city folk is typically an American setup, since the country’s sprawling geography makes it easier to have pockets of the nation rural enough to lack police presence and maintain a sense of isolation from the rest of the world. What few UK equivalents there are, such as Doghouse or Inbred, are usually played for comedy, but in stark contrast Calibre is unremittingly grim. After the two friends make their fateful decision, any hope of an easy ride or explaining things away is obliterated. From then on, paranoid intensity never relents as the tranquil idyll of the Highlands’ untamed wilds is transformed into a desolate prison of inescapable wilderness. The area’s populace are not so much the stereotypes as seen in the likes of Deliverance or Straw Dogs, but people living harsh and sparse existences as they desperately try to hold onto a way of life fast becoming untenable in the swiftly advancing and homogenising world.
The story plays out pretty much exactly as you’ve likely imagined it will from the above synopsis, but in spite of the familiarity it remains tense and foreboding, especially when a way out that avoids tragedy begins to look increasingly unlikely. The paranoia of the two friends alters the perspectives of innocuous encounters when added to the implacable stoicism of the highlanders that makes it impossible to tell exactly how much they already know or have figured out about what’s happened. A standout scene in a pub dining room that in any other situation would be a simple conversation is instead so charged with menace it threatens to explode at any moment.
The stripped-down minimalism of the tale adds to its intensity, every moment contributing something essential, be it advancing the story or racking up the tension. The only real issue might not even be noticed by audiences at large, but for anyone who can pick up the nuances it remains faintly distracting that despite the story taking place in a remote Highland village, every single one of its denizens speaks in a Glaswegian accent.
Intense, uncompromising and bleak as all hell, Calibre is not an easy watch, but its dive into the darkness of human nature is one that will stay with you, whether you want it to or not.
Calibre / Cert: 15 / Director: Matt Palmer / Screenplay: Matt Palmer / Starring: Jack Lowden, Martin McCann, Tony Curran, Ian Pirie, Kate Bracken, Kitty Lovett / Release Date: Out Now (Netflix)