Calm with Horses
From the bosom of rural Ireland, a bite on the hand is as close to any form of mollycoddling as it gets in Nick Rowland’s new film Calm With Horses. Starring Cosmo Jarvis and Barry Keoghan amongst some of the brightest emerging talents and finest veterans of the game that Ireland offers, Joseph Murtagh’s debut screenplay will test your resilience and strength as it probes your grit-bearing threshold and violence-stomaching capability.
Built like a stack of bricks and with a neck as thick as your waistband, Douglas (Jarvis) is a former boxer and gentle giant, capable of crushing your skull with one hand, while emotionally yearning to connect with his autistic son Jack and former partner Ursula (Niamh Algar). His distinct lack of intelligence leaves him vulnerable to the will and orders of the drug-dealing Devers family, in particular his friend Dympna (Barry Keoghan), who finds pleasure in enforcing Douglas’s servitude, due perhaps to his own inferiority complex struggle within his family.
The Devers took Douglas into their home when he was lost, but in the process blinded him to the man he used to be through grimy underworld jobs and crimes that would see you locked away for years. Before too long Douglas’s good nature overcomes his duty, leaving him hiding a life-threatening secret that will no doubt eventually creep out to the knowledge of the wrong people.
Taking a seed from the acclaimed Irish series Love/Hate and planting it in the darkest corners of the countryside, Calm With Horses seizes the reins and throws you out of the saddle, making you join Douglas helplessly as he become more and more entwined in a web of deceit and desperation. There are some immense performances from many of the cast, not least Jarvis, Keoghan and Algar, who enthral you with some of the most intense acting to be witnessed in 2020. You suffer with Jarvis, you play Keoghan’s games, and you wish for a better, happier life like Algar. All these motives, paired with the endless onslaught of unashamed violence, wreak havoc with the emotions, rendering the viewer inanimate when the action unfolds in a seedy and bloody narrative. But it is without doubt that this is a delectable concoction.
The engrossing nature of the film is made all the better by some exceptionally interesting cinematography, with set locations varying from the beautiful greenery of the Irish mountains to small seaside towns in which financial prosperity clearly has had no place or influence in a very, very long time. It is an eye-opening look into Irish culture, with a methodical and at times hilarious use of language broadening both the structure of the script and the backgrounds of various characters. “Blood makes you related, loyalty makes you party of the family” is a phrase coined stoically at the start of the film, but these words are far more than dramatic licence. For some in society, they ring ever true, and Calm With Horses is a spyglass into just one group that wears the phrase on its sleeve.
The film is certainly going to be a success, receiving positive reviews at various film festivals in 2019 – a mightily exciting prospect for Rowland, Murtagh and the cast involved, since Irish cinema has often taken second place behind bigger-budget international offerings, meaning that projects are simply catapulted out to a select audience. Perhaps Calm With Horses will bridge that divide. It would indubitably be about time.
Calm with Horses is released nationwide on 13th March 2020.
Watch the trailer for Calm with Horses here: