Calm With Horses (Review) – the flickering light of redemption in a brutal world

Calm With Horses is released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 13th March

Based on the award-winning short story by Colin Barrett and adapted for the screen by Joe Murtagh, director Nick Rowland’s Calm With Horses is an electric crime drama. Here Rowland wraps the audience in a heart-breaking and violent portrait of poverty, social isolation and broken fatherhood in rural Ireland.

In both style and tone, Calm With Horses owes much to Animal Kingdom and Bullhead, as themes of crime, substance misuse and masculinity are laced with a far more nuanced exploration of social entrapment. Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis) is an ex-semi-professional boxer whose career ended following the accidental death of another young man in the ring. Since then, his life has been stuck in a trap of servitude to the Devers family led by Paudi (Ned Dennehy) and his brother Hector (David Wilmot). The Devers rule the town’s local drug scene with an iron grip using Douglas’ brute strength to further their social control – his talents held on the leash of the young Dympna (Barry Keoghan).

Douglas splits his duty to the family with the needs of his ex-girlfriend Ursula (Niamh Algar) and their five-year-old autistic son Jack (Kiljan Moroney). But his relationship with both mother and son is shrouded by the violence of his day job and the dirty money he brings home. As Douglas’ world slowly changes and Jack needs to move to a special school near Cork, the Devers instructs him and Dympna to carry out a punishment beating of a local man who has been accused of sexually molesting one of the Dever’s girls. However, what starts as an act of violent retribution soon takes Douglas down a much darker road of no return. 


Nick Rowland’s film carries a stark and foreboding atmosphere from the outset as you enter a world built on poverty of opportunity, community control and fear. However, unlike many similar films, Rowland centres his narrative on the role of the family and community over violence and crime. Dympna and Douglas are products of their own childhood and adolescence, and the slow divergence in their moral compass as the film progresses is genuinely fascinating. Here one realises that family is about care, love and escape, while the other is consumed by the need to please and maintain his place and purpose at any cost.

At the heart of the film’s success are the outstanding performances of Barry Keoghan and Cosmo Jarvis, with Javis embodying the stilted emotional development of a man who has mistakenly placed his allegiance and respect in the wrong hands. Calm with Horses is nothing short of an outstanding debut feature that leaves an indelible mark as it explores community, survival, manipulation, education and emotional development.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Director: Nick Rowland

Cast: Ned DennehyBarry KeoghanNiamh Algar, Cosmo Jarvis, David Wilmot

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