Film Reviews

Calm with Horses review: an emotional masterpiece

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve seen many films, but few as powerful as Nick Rowland’s Calm with Horses. The story is at its heart about the relationship between protagonist Arm (Cosmo Jarvis), a traumatised ex-boxer who finds himself working for a criminal family in West Ireland, and his young autistic son (Kiljan Moroney), who melts down easily, but finds comfort in the presence of horses.

This film is not for the faint-hearted. It doesn’t shy away from gore and nudity. But its explicitness isn’t done gratuitously – it is used to demonstrate the cruelty of the criminal family, how easily disposed of the supposed ‘family’ members are, and how it is difficult to escape this world of ‘kill or be killed’ once you’re trapped in it.

Calm with Horses is an honest portrayal of a father fighting to keep his son close to him, as his decisions to join the criminal family drag him down a hell of no return. His partner Ursula (Niamh Algar) even decides to move away to Cork, with his son, to avoid the dangers that come with the criminal family in which Arm is involved. The saddest part of the whole film is that Arm gives it his all to save the family, but you wonder if by the end of the picture the son or his partner are even aware of this sacrifice, especially given the son has never shown an attachment to him.

In the beginning, he fails to recognise his father, and the film is marked by his meltdowns, which are in stark contrast to the effect of horses on him, and is an indication of Arm’s failure to bond with his son who he seems to love so much. He and his partner have ups and downs throughout the film. However, when there are moments of happy family intimacy, we are shown glimpses of what could have been if Arm didn’t join the criminal family.

It is a nice surprise to see Barry Keoghan play Arm’s ‘brother’ Dympna from the criminal family. I was already aware he’s in practically every Irish film or show going right now, but his versatility and range shines through. His performance as Cormac McDevitt from Rebellion couldn’t be more different from Dympna in Calm with Horses.

Beautiful performances are complemented by beautiful cinematography, with intimate moments being portrayed through enclosures in viewing, and occasional scenes of picturesque West Ireland hills which could be used by the Irish tourism board. Eerie dissonant music is played oppressively over dialogue which conveys the emotional disturbance of Arm at suspenseful moments of the film.

All in all, whether you’re someone who appreciates a gangster movie or someone who enjoys good cinematography and a tragic but universal father-son love story that will pull at your heartstrings, Calm with Horses is for you.

Image: ficano1974 via Pixabay

By Shin Woo Kim


Shinwoo (they/them) is a former News Editor. They identify as a Marxist-Leninist, and have written for Voices, News and Opinion and more recently for TV & Film.