LFF 2019: Calm With Horses – Review

Release date – 13th March 2020, Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 40 minutes, Director – Nick Rowland

Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis) is the tough enforcer for an Irish crime family, however he becomes increasingly torn between his crime life and his actual family, especially when asked to kill for the first time.

“Violence isn’t always in, it’s sometimes just the way a fella makes sense of the world” states former boxer Douglas (Cosmo Jarvis). The tough-man enforcer for the Devers family. A notorious crime family in rural Ireland, led by Barry Keoghan. Douglas’ life almost seems to be dominated by violence, he craves to be back in the boxing ring but after multiple injuries he has to live life by beating those that the Devers family is out for. However, things take a turn for the worst when he’s told to kill for the first time in his life. Douglas finds himself torn between his life of crime and his actual family, including his five year old, highly autistic son, Jack. The contrast between the two lifestyles clearly shown, Douglas’ house is dark and shaded, much like everything he comes into contact with when with the Devers, whereas when spending time with his son things are brightly lit, if slightly grey-washed.

Debut director Nick Rowland does a fantastic job in conveying the true scale of the violence that lines a number of the scenes in the film. Each beat is flinch inducingly tense, bringing in elements of slight discomfort and unease to create a truly impactful feel. Fuelled further by the fast-paced editing and the overall gritty feel of the piece the bloody nature of the film is truly felt, the right sense of darkness being used to enhance the world that Rowland, and screenwriter Joseph Murtagh, creates. As the third act comes into play there are hints of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver in that once one thing goes wrong it’s all downhill from there. The tension being ramped up to an edge of your seat style finale; where anything can happen.

This all contrasting with the moments of calm that Douglas experiences. He discovers the pure joy of riding horses, something which he begins to have in common with his son – the scenes where he tries but fails to connect being truly upsetting and disheartening. During such moments there’s a genuine sense of uplift, a pure smile comes to the face of the viewer during this time of relief, something akin to therapy. The performances throughout helping to perfectly capture the tone of each scene.

Each performance in the film is truly outstanding, capturing the real essence of each character, adding new layers as the plot progresses. In fact the performances that steal the show are those of the supporting cast – especially Niamh Agar as Douglas’ suffering ex, Ursula. Showing the struggles, stresses and gradual breakdown of the character as she worries about her son’s future – wanting to move to Cork so that she can enrol him in a school that will be able to cater towards his needs more than a standard one would.

As all the fears and worries of Douglas’ life begin to rapidly escalate so does the overall sense of darkness, grit and tension that the film so wonderfully encapsulates. Everything is clearly planned out, thought-through and generally sculpted to heighten the investment and engagement of the viewer within the world created. One that feels grounded and realistic, forming a stronger connection with the deeply conflicted nature of the central figure. When mixed with the believable, yet brutal, nature of violence which is sparingly used and carefully crafted, there’s a lot to enjoy about Calm With Horses. From the clearly passionate input from all the cast and crew to the various effects on the audience. Rowland shows with his directorial feature debut that he’s put a great deal of time and effort into his craft, and it shows to strong effect. Demonstrating great future promise for a director who may very well become the British equivalent of the Coen Brothers.

Dark, gritty and equally emotional there’s a great mixture of feelings poured into the passionately made Calm With Horses. Fulled further by top editing and performances it’s a deeply unflinching drama from a promising rising talent who’s sure to be a huge name in British/Irish cinema very soon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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