For a directorial debut, Calibre is a tense thriller from a new and upcoming master of the macabre.

The choices we make will ultimately define consequences we must face in the future. Or so, we’ve been told since a young age. Writer-director Matt Palmer gives that axiom a wicked spin in Calibre, a Netflix release not to be underestimated by its lean length and production budget.

Before the film reaches its inevitable and horrifying conclusion, Calibre will have the audience questioning what is right and wrong. Viewers may even find themselves rooting for either the timid and polite Vaughn (Jack Lowden) or the confident and outgoing (Marcus Martin McCann), old friends off to the Sottish highlands for a bit of deer hunting. This would also be their last getaway as bachelors before Vaughn marries his newly pregnant fiancé. Upon arrival at the local tavern, the duo find the locals less than hospitable. At first it’s not clear whether the locals don’t take kindly to outsiders or they just don’t like big city executives flirting with the local women. A night of pub-hopping later, the next morning starts with a hangover and ends with a nightmare that doesn’t end.

 Thus begins Palmer’s feature debut until it takes you to its mind-numbing and gripping final thirty minutes. If you survive this, the very last scene will leave you with an icy shiver. Very bad things happen in this film, some of which in quick succession and before we get a chance to digest the gravity of the horror unfolding on screen. While it’s not about whether viewers can stomach some of the violence, the question that emerges is in identifying who the real villains are. Getting into more detail would be doing this shocking and edgy thriller a disservice but the two male leads are excellent, each in their own way. Lowden, fresh of the success of Christopher Nolan’s war epic Dunkirk, and McCann building on his terrific performance in the 2016 post-apocalyptic thriller The Survivalist, are both exceptional in a simple story of a stag-weekend gone terribly wrong. Even so, they are both matched by strong talent from the likes of Tony Curran and Ian Pirie, playing village locals who are essentially law of the land.

 Calibre is evidently shot on a low budget but still manages to keep the viewer arrested with a sinking feeling that the worst is yet to come. While the premise of a stag night gone bad, or outsiders having to outsmart suspicious locals have been done many times before, Palmer’s story is somehow counter-intuitive to what one would expect. In between balancing our sympathies for the two leads against a situation that gets gruesome by the minute, Palmer deserves the most praise for taking a familiar story and giving it a diabolical yet intentional twist. Neatly embedded in the story are also subtle questions about the disparity of power, wealth, and justice, while offering nothing but a bleak answer as to how and why bad things happen to good people. It isn’t a joyous film to recommend and neither is there anything pleasant about the film but if so much can be delivered with so little, then Matt Palmer is the name to look for as the new and upcoming master of the macabre.

Rating: ★★★★☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.