Calm With Horses Review

A Knockout Film Debut

By Liselotte Vanophem

We all carry personal baggage and history with us all the time. The things we do, the people we meet, the goals we achieve etc will all have a big impact on our future.

Sadly, not always in a good way as it’s proven in the strong direction debut by Nick Rowland. His “Calm With Horses” shows us in an extremely thrilling, raw, personal and dark way what a big and unforeseen impact one terrible mistake can have on our lives.

“Calm With Horses” opens with a massive punch that will set the tone for the entire movie. Durplas ‘Arm’ Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) is getting a pep-talk from his so-called friend Dympna Devers (Barry Keoghan). After having enough adrenaline running through his veins, he starts beating up an older man on his own until life has almost completely left his body.

What might seem like a random attack, is an act of revenge for Dympna’s sister. She was sexually abused by the man called Fannigan (Liam Carney) and if there’s one notorious family from Ireland that’s known for taking bloody revenge, it’s the Devers family.

For them, it’s all about loyalty, the bloodlust, and violent repression. Arm became part of this family when he found himself in a dark phase in his life. He used to be a boxer for a living but after taking a boxing game accidentally to a deadly level, he got into a downwards spiral.

One that sadly drove him away from his loving wife Ursula (Niamh Algar) and wonderful kid Jack (Kiljan Moroney) and straight into the arms of Devers family. He became their lapdog doing all the hard and brutal work.

However, when they want him to take their act of revenge on Fannigan to a higher level, Armstrong is facing an extremely difficult choice. Giving in to one of the deadliest acts he will ever commit and stay loyal to the Devers or standing his ground and choosing for reconciliation with Ursula and Jack?

While “Calm With Horses” is a very rough and hard to watch film, it’s so much more than just a movie about revenge, violence and upholding the family legacy.

This is mostly because of the human topics this film is about. Yes, there’s the thirst for revenge but there’s also the need for love, family and friendship, some things we all want. Throughout the entire movie, Arm is being torn apart between caring for his family and being the most perfect slave of the Devers.

Because of his violent ‘job’, his ex-wife is also going through some very difficult situations. She wants to give Arm another chance to be a good husband and father but at the same time she also wants to keep her child away from him and the violent world he lives in. While he doesn’t seem to have any feelings, there’s a soft side to Dympna as well which surfaces when he has to decide between protecting Arm and honouring his family.

Of course, these topics wouldn’t be as powerful and heart-breaking if they weren’t performed stunningly. Well, thanks to casting director Shaheen Baig (“Rare Beasts”, “ Animals “) and the perfect cast she brought together, the emotions came to life perfectly.

Jarvis (“Lady Macbeth”, “Hunter Killer”) is just superb as Arm. Those raw, violent but also caring and compassionate elements of his character are coming through in such a gripping way. With his 5′ 10″, he certainly has the posture of a boxer and he oozes that power and violence.

He doesn’t let us down during the emotional scenes at all. During that last part of the movie, he shows us what an immense range of emotions he can portray while still having that violent vibe around him.

The chemistry between him and Keoghan is just phenomenal which is also due to the high-quality performance of Keoghan (“ Dunkirk “, “American Animals”).

Right from the start, he shows us that incredible dark and sinister side of Dympna stunningly. With Dympna, it’s all about less human emotions and more about aggressiveness and bitterness than ‘Arm’ and that’s exactly what Keoghan shows us in a very compelling way.

The most human and relatable emotions are being brought to the screen by Algar (“The Drummer and the Keeper”, “Without Name”). With a sweet performance, she brings the loving and compassionate side of Ursula out beautifully.

Ursula is facing many prejudices throughout the movie about motherhood and we can feel that because of Algar’s wonderful performance. We just would have loved to see a little bit more of her.

We also want to applaud Moroney who plays the young Jack so touchingly in his film debut. He doesn’t have much dialogue but every time he opens his mouth, his performance just goes straight to your heart.

There’s so much talent in front of the screen but certainly also behind the camera. The location team did an outstanding job. Not only by selecting the most wonderful and open sets full of nature but also the darkest and sinister places. That scene in the old and rust van just sums up the entire film in one shot: Two lost and dark souls losing the grip of reality.

We also want to praise the hair and makeup team. That blond-ish hair of Keoghan brings that ‘bad boy’ vibe out even more and we don’t want to know how many hours it took to make those gunshots wounds or stabbing wounds to look so impressive.

The cinematography of Piers McGrail (“Without Name”, “The Cured”) brings out that dark versus light emotions wonderfully. The close-ups are used for heightening the violence even more while the slower and wider shots breathe some quietness into this film.

There were already some opportunities to catch “Calm With Horses” in the UK last year as it was part of the BFI London Film Festival and the FilmBath Festival and now it finally gets a nationwide release.

We suggest you go and see the film. Why? Because you just can’t miss a powerful, emotionally draining, stunningly performed and wonderfully captured debut film like this.

Originally published at on March 14, 2020.




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