Calm With Horses review: a terrific directorial debut

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Cosmo Jarvis, Barry Keoghan and Niamh Algar star in the excellent Calm With Horses, that’s now available on demand – here’s our review.

“You don’t turn your back on family. Even when they do”. Who would have thought that words from the mouth of Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto could apply so aptly to the long-awaited first feature from director Nick Rowland? And yet, like the Furious franchise, Calm with Horses examines the meaning of allegiance within a crime family, but with significantly less fun results.

A simple, tortured soul trying to make the best of his lot in life, Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong (Cosmo Jarvis) finds himself working for said family (the Devers) within a small Irish coastal town, seemingly isolated from the rest of the world. With a sparse backdrop and the crash of the waves against the cliffs dominating the soundscape, it becomes very clear early on that this is a place few are able to escape.

While bound to the Devers and operating as their enforcer and errand boy, Arm’s actions appear to be fuelled by the financial gain that he believes can provide a better life for his ex-girlfriend Ursula (Niamh Algar) and their autistic son Jack, specifically to fund attendance at a special education school outside their hometown.

But this is not our traditional brooding hero, but a victim of circumstance with a warped sense of loyalty towards his employer. A man of few words, who carries out beatings with an air of politeness and introduces himself as someone who believes that violence is a way to make sense of the world. Every word that is unsaid is painstakingly delivered via Jarvis’ nuanced performance, with an almost child-like quality and a pained acceptance of what is required of him. The question as to who this ‘family’ Arm looks to provide for and protect is posed throughout, as his allegiances are questioned and tested.

Barry Keoghan’s Dympna on the other hand alternates between the devil on Arm’s shoulder, to his apparent closest ally, albeit in a relationship that wreaks of coercive control, best demonstrated in a scene where he continuously cokes up his ‘friend’ in order to make him more malleable to his demands. Unpredictable and irrational, Dympna is faced with a similar quandary – driven by a constant need to appease his two uncles and to fulfil his role within the family business, inevitably putting him at odds with Arm by the film’s final act.

Formerly known for his exceptional short film Slap, here Rowland delivers a perfectly cast, moody and mesmerising film noir, while Barry Keoghan continues to cement himself as one of the most exciting young talents around.

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