Bruising Encounters

A highly-charged and atmospheric crime film, Calm with Horses marks the feature debut of British filmmaker Nick Rowland. Set in a rural town in Ireland, it’s adapted from Colin Barrett’s short story of the same name from his 2014 collection Young Skins, and follows the exploits of Douglas ‘Arm’ Armstrong, a shaven-headed former boxer now working as a hired hand for the drug-running Devers family.

This bunch of ne’er-do-wells is run by the foul Paudi (Ned Dennehy), though Arm spends more of his time with Paudi’s nephew Dymphana (Barry Keoghan), who keeps the former fighter on a short leash, spoon-feeding him cocaine to top up his aggression. When the film opens, he’s instructed to beat up Fannigan (Liam Carney), a family friend who got too friendly, sickeningly, with a 13 year-old girl in the Devers clan, when he was drunk at a party.

The retribution handed out is bloody and violent, but there’s a softer side to Arm, who still cares for his ex-girlfriend Ursula (Niamh Algar) and their young son Jack, who has autism. Already in a new relationship with Rob (Anthony Welsh), who works at the horse farm that Jack visits, Ursula wants to take Jack away to Cork for a better life, a plan that leaves Jack in an emotional bind.

Yet things really come to a head when Paudi hears of the Fannigan incident and orders Jack to kill him and save the Devers’ ‘honour’. For all his violent tendencies – his knuckles seem permanently bruised or scraped – Arm has never pulled the trigger before. What he decides, naturally, will have huge consequences on his life, as well as the film’s third act, which ignites after the delicious slow-burn of the first hour-and-a-quarter.

Without question, the standout turn here is Cosmo Jarvis, who first came to our attention in Lady Macbeth. This is another performance entirely, with the actor exuding the sort charisma once found in a young Tom Hardy. Set to an ominous score from Blanck Mass (aka electronic composer Benjamin John Power) that is perfect for the gloomy cinematography, this is a crime film that, for once, evades the clichés and does not disappoint.

Calm with Horses opens on 13 March. For more details, visit here.

James Mottram