Amulet is a 2020 horror film from actress, writer, and director Romola Garai, who has appeared in 2015’s Suffragette and 2004’s Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. (We won’t hold that last film against her.) The film made its World Premiere earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, and was released to (drive-in) theaters and On Demand in July by Magnet Releasing.
Amulet tells the tale of Tomaz (Alec Secareanu), a former soldier who finds himself homeless on the streets of London. After suffering injuries escaping a burning building he’d been squatting in, he is taken to a hospital by a nun, Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton, presumably best known as “Dolores Umbridge” in the Harry Potter films.) With nowhere else to stay, Sister Claire helps Tomaz find refuge at the aging, decayed home of Magda (Carla Juri). As Magda spends all of her time tending to the needs of her dying mother, who is physically unable to leave the home’s top floor, Tomaz can tend to repairs in exchange for warm meals and a bed in which to rest.
This is all intercut with flashbacks to Tomaz’s time in the military, serving as a border guard at some desolate, seldom-used outpost. It’s during this time that he meets Miriam (Angeliki Papoulía) a woman attempting to cross the border in order to be with her young daughter. Fearful that she will be shot and killed, Tomaz urges the woman to stay with him at his cabin until it is safe to pass.
The relationship between Tomaz and Magda is icy at first, as much due to his unwillingness to “open up” as hers. He spends his first few days reading books on philosophy in his room and attempting to clean the home’s nearly polluted plumbing system. It’s while working on a backed-up toilet that Tomaz makes his first bizarre discovery: a snow-white, bat-like creature submerged in brackish water, clogging the toilet’s drain. He extracts the creature, only to have it awaken and try to bite him. He crushes it underfoot, then shows it to Magda, who asks him to remove it from the house and bury it.
Tomaz soon begins to notice other strange behavior in regards to the sick, old mother. Despite claims to the woman’s frailty, the door to her room has a chain lock on it. Also, Magda suffers various injuries, such as scratches and bite marks as a result of her efforts to tend to her mother’s constant bouts of pain. Tomaz begins to feel sympathy for the younger woman, which soon blossoms into love, leading him to struggle with his own demons.
Amulet features some stellar camera work, as well as superb performances from the entire cast. That said, Staunton steals every scene she is in. However, even with the exemplary acting, Amulet is still a very “slow burner” of a story. The film is in no rush to explain itself, which may be enough to dissuade some potential viewers.
In some ways, Amulet reminds me of an old Gothic horror film, such as Antonio Margheriti’s Castle of Blood, albeit with elements of Rosemary’s Baby thrown in the mix. It might even be fair to say that there is a Clive Barker-ish vibe to some moments late in the film, which get more than a little trippy and dreamlike. “Nightmarish” might be a better word.
Amulet starts with hints of unease and confusion. From there, the film does a decent job of building the suspense and dread, but never provides many real scares. The film might have also benefited from some tighter editing, often feeling a tad “slow”. The finale may seem like a drastic tonal shift, alienating some, while impressing others with its unconventionality. I do wish that a couple plot points had been explained a tad more, but that’s only because I’m kinda “slow”.
Overall, I enjoyed Amulet. The film took some time to get going, but once it did, I was quite curious to see where it would ultimately lead me. I may not have loved the “final destination”, but I also had no real objections, and could accept it for what it is. Those looking for a uniquely creepy tale that plays with the “hero” stereotype, while still managing to keep a thick air of uncertainty and unease looming overhead until the final moments, may find some enjoyment in Amulet. However, those that just want some cheap thrills and bloody fun will surely want to search elsewhere.
AMULET is available On Demand from iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, VUDU, Youtube, and more.
*Horror And Sons received a screener link for the film from the distributor for review purposes. This did not impact our opinion of the film.