Calvary (Film Review)

I am in limbo. Cinematic limbo.

I fear I will be chastised for my sins with this cowardly coward’s rating; neither love nor hate, a gutless swerve from the extremes. The three-star rating is one I try desperately to avoid. Of all the scores a handful of stars can give, three bares the pathetic role of: indifference. Calvary, I just wasn’t that into you.

The opening shot, though, had me transfixed in its holy beauty. From there, things seemed to languidly fall apart. Brendan Gleeson’s Father James is perched in the confessions box, conventionally listening intently to the voice of a troubled man; unconventionally listening to a threat on his life. “Sunday week, let’s say” – for his planned murder is not one of personal spite or hatred, but of universal abhorrence for the Catholic priesthood. Because killing a guilty priest would be too obvious. No one expects the death of the innocent.

So the plot starts off an interesting one – an atypical religion-rooted film set in a small, Irish village by the sea. And while you would expect a wild threat like that to travel the length and breadth of the community within a matter of hours, of course, the confession is left unspoken, for the most part, the code and conduct of confidentiality within the church left untarnished. So the threat lingers, like a forever-untouched itch, weaving its way into the background of the community’s subplots.

And that sounds like intriguing, masterful writing, pulling the viewer in with each simultaneous step away from and into danger – a glorified study on the art of procrastination. It should be calming and somewhat soothing, what with the gorgeous Irish hills and waves forming peaks along the windswept skyline. Or maybe I’m just being idealistic – the town’s priest had just scored a fearless death threat. But it’s just bleak. Bleak and painfully grey.

Really, I think what the main problem is, you have to look really hard to find something of humanity’s ability to be good. And it is there, it’s almost always there. And maybe the lack of it in Calvary is something that negatively reflects everything that is good with the filmmaking. It sends you into this depressed state where nothing is joyful or uplifting or just, nice, and instead, you’re surrounded by a four-cornered tsunami of pessimism and destruction and miserable lives. Not one person in the village seems to be genuinely happy – content, maybe, but not happy.

Father James’ character is likeable enough with his laid-back and unflinching calm attitude in life. But we never go deep enough into his inner-workings of his true, unconcealed feelings. Yes, this façade he holds up is a vital part of his disposition but, as a viewer, my fulfilment jug was left half empty, dry even. But while the rest of the story plays out at a somewhat disjointed tenor, there is nothing disjointed about the mighty Gleeson’s performance. He has, undeniably, made a fine name for himself over the years and for Calvary, he is the linchpin, the solid ground holding the teetering pinhead upright for 102 assorted minutes.

What it does do well is question how safe we all are, in homes and towns we consider innocuous, with people we consider our friends and allies. The majority of murders are committed by a person the victim knows. Whether it’s an acquaintance, a friend, a lover, is anyone really safe? (…I seem to have been infected by the film’s bleak cynicism. Excuse me.)

One inspiriting thing I will take away is the image of a Catholic priest in a red, open-top sports car. Now that I thought I’d never see.


Imogen Bristow, Film writer at Seroword

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  1. I saw this ages ago while I was in England… great film, shows the quality of films coming out of the United Kingdom

  2. Calvary, I just wasn’t that into you about sums it up for me as well.

  3. I was so mixed on this film. The opening & closing scenes were 2 of the most disturbing I’ve seen in some time and I’m not even a tiny bit religious..but they were hardcore. The acting was quite stellar for me throughout though..and I think I def. gave it a C+ …which is a bit above average.. though beautifully scenic and all, and loved the supporting cast, something was just a bit amiss. can’t put my finger on what it was.

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