Film Review: Calibre is a confident and disturbing debut thriller

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After winning the Michael Powell award for best British feature film at this year’s Edinburgh film festival, unnerving Scottish thriller Calibre finds a home on Netflix, writes Natalie Stendall

This sharply made debut feature from rising star Matt Palmer turns into an ‘eye for an eye’ vengeance tale when a hunting trip goes awry.

Vaughn (Jack Lowden) leaves his pregnant wife at home for a last weekend of freedom, stalking deer in the Scottish Highlands with best friend Marcus (Martin McCann). Palmer immediately captures this remote autumnal landscape in all its desolate beauty. Snow clings to the peaks, empty roads stretch out into the distance and there’s a pressing sense that, in this vast isolation, something dreadful will happen.

The local community is less than welcoming and the thick atmosphere of hot-headed vigilantism requires us to suspend disbelief. Thankfully, the film keeps largely to the perspective of Vaughn whose tortured state of mind permeates the film with a near intolerable urgency.

Palmer’s pacing is right on the money, each catastrophe fuelling the next, but the writer-director finds space for a scattering of morbid images that puncture the increasing tension with the devastating tragedy at its core.

Lowden, who appeared last year in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, marks himself out here as a star of the future. His anguished performance builds to a chilling crescendo and succeeds in obscuring the plot’s weakest developments. McCann too is a force to be reckoned with, giving us a sympathetic but collected and self-possessed foil to Lowden’s guilty descent.

Watching Calibre is an uneasy, apprehensive and often disturbing experience. Palmer’s confident filmmaking and talented cast ensure the murky and implausible final act remains taut to the last.