Thursday, January 17, 2019

Calibre (2018)

Because his fiancée's new pregnancy signals something like the beginning of responsible grown-up life, and realistically for quite a few years less time for swanning off with his friends, to him, Vaughn (Jack Lowden) is going on a weekend trip into the Scottish Highlands with his best friend Marcus (Martin McCann). It’s going to be a hunting trip, no less. Vaughn does not actually have much interest in shooting helpless animals but Marcus insists, and it’s pretty clear the latter man has been the dominant partner in their friendship since they met at boarding school, a place where you’d expect Marcus with his clear rich boy entitlement to have felt rather at home, and Vaughn not so much.

After a night of drinking and flirting with the female populace of the village they have booked rooms for the weekend in, or a bit more than just flirting in Marcus’s case, off to the hunt they go. From now on, things will go very badly indeed, for Vaughn accidentally shoots and kills a little boy. The following confrontation with the child’s desperate father ends up with Marcus killing him, too, in what he clearly honestly believes was the bodily defence of his friend. To the audience, the situation is rather more ambiguous; it’s a clear possibility that Vaughn had managed to talk the man down already when his friend shoots.

In any case, from here on out, Marcus takes control of the situation, with little resistance from the just as shell-shocked Vaughn, and the two start on a series of increasingly horrible, and just plain wrong decisions, starting with the idea of burying the bodies and (badly) pretending nothing happened.

Matt Palmer’s Made for Netflix thriller is a rather wonderful example of intelligent filmmaking, based on a script – also by the director – that particularly impressed me with its measuredness, its ability to escalate a situation yet to find the point to stop before things, characters and situations become too over the top.

So Marcus is certainly a bit of an entitled prick – certainly someone I’d dislike heartily in real life - and Vaughn a bit of a wet blanket, but both are so in believable measures, keeping their friendship a concrete thing between two believable and concrete men instead of an abstract or a cliché only there to drive a movie. And the villagers, as country people in horror films and thrillers are wont to, certainly have their own ways of going about things, but again, the film finds exactly the right spot just before they turn into crazy backwoods folk and portrays their actions as consequence of the things they go through.

In fact, one of the film’s subtle arguments seems to be that part of the situation evolves like it does exactly because our protagonists view these people – even an obvious man of distinction like Logan McClay (Tony Curran, as off-handedly wonderful as usual) – as villagers, these curious humans city people meet when they are on vacation, not quite like us, and therefor not quite evoking the kind of empathy and respect they might afford those they meet in their daily lives. That’s not to say there isn’t resentment coming from the other side, too, though it mostly is the sort of resentment provoked by random outsiders just trampling through your life without even seeming to notice when they do harm.

This kind of thoughtfulness, the willingness to let things and people be complicated runs through every aspect of Calibre’s script. However, it also manages to be just a wonderfully effective genre film, if you like your thrillers quietly tense and subtly tight, that is, for while there is indeed something of a violent climax, much of the immense tension of the film is based on careful observation and consideration of people and situations and seldom built on obvious set pieces. That’s not a criticism, of course, it’s a sign of subtlety, and while I do love loud and visually stylized thrillers, subtlety is not a bad thing, especially if it’s realized so well.
It’s also remarkable how little interest Palmer shows in twists, something that now seems to be a mandatory element of most thriller and horror films, often to their detriment; instead of twists, Calibre has actual organic plot developments, the feeling of a noose pulling tighter, and things deteriorating. I rather prefer that.

I haven’t really said much about the film’s technical aspects. That’s not because they are not worth mentioning, but because Palmer’s direction is so self-assured and at the same time so disinterested in pointing at itself, that the film’s highly effective framing of scenes, the pointed editing, and the often beautiful camera work of DP Márk Györi, as well as the through the bank excellent acting, just become part of the gestalt of Calibre.

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