16th March 2020

Review: Calm with Horses

Calm with Horses blends a gripping underworld story with a personal drama to create universal moral dilemmas, writes Michal Wasilewski.
Review: Calm with Horses
Photo: courtesy of Claire Gascoyne

Adapted by screenwriter Joe Murtagh from a short story by Collin Barrett, Calm with Horses takes the viewer to a grim and brutal life of the drug-dealing Devers family. Set in an atmospheric and cinematic town on the Irish west coast, the story offers a blend of a gangster film with a quiet, personal drama.

The film’s main character, Arm (Cosmo Jarvis), was a boxer in his younger days. He is a father of a few-years-old autistic boy, whom he can’t understand or properly take care of. His ex-girlfriend and mother of his son doesn’t trust him and isn’t keen on letting him spend time with a young boy, as she sees that he is far from being a good parent.

Since the twilight of his sport career, Arm has been working as an enforcer for the Devers family, spending a large part of his time hanging out or partying with his best friend, Dympna Devers (Barry Keoghan). Arm’s loyalty and friendship are to be put to the test, as the Devers family orders him to kill for the first time.

The remote and underpopulated town makes for a feeling of entrapment, leaving everyone with nowhere to run and nothing to look forward to. His ex-girlfriend has gotten their son a place in a special school in the other part of the country, and Arm is afraid of having nothing but drugs and violence surrounding him.

The film observes how Arm, who has never spent much time planning his future, is trying to identify his life priorities. Are loyalty and friendship more important to him than the relationship with his son? Or is he so tired of living this kind of a life that he would rather run away on his own? 

As tones are changing from energetic and violent scenes to moments of reflections, so does the editing and the camera movements. The cinematography is stunning and makes the town and other locations feel as if they were separate characters. The technical achievements are impressive as for a low-budget, independent production, and help the film go beyond an average underworld tale.

Calm with Horses is a brutal and gripping story with an emotional touch. It builds universal and apposite moral dilemmas, basing them on a deep understanding of the characters’ thoughts and feelings.


Michal Wasilewski

Michal Wasilewski

Managing Editor of Culture for The Mancunion.

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