Content Warning: This review features a brief discussion of sexual assault.
In Amulet, a former soldier named Tomaz is fighting against homelessness in London as well as past atrocities that continue to haunt him. Tomaz comes across a helpful nun that suggests he move into the dilapidated home of a young woman named Magda, who is caring for her dying mother. At first, Magda is resistant to having Tomaz in the house but he proves to be useful and the two slowly form the beginning of a romance. As Tomaz begins to fall for Magda, he starts to notice strange and horrifying phenomena in the home. Something seems to be very, very wrong with Magda’s mother. In fact, nothing is as it seems.
Amulet is the directorial debut of Romola Garai and was an official selection of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where the film enjoyed its World Premiere. The film stars Carla Juri, Alec Secareanu, Imelda Staunton, and Angeliki Papoulia. Instantly, Amulet distinguishes itself by having one of the most effective horror atmospheres that this critic can recall. The entire film oozes this aura of dread. The entire set is in a state of decay and there is an eerie stillness to the film that gives the feeling of breathing the air inside a tomb, weighted by death. Every moment of the film is carried out with a bleak misery. It’s haunting. It feels like you’re viewing something that is cursed.
The look and feel of Amulet is exceptional within the genre, but it appears that looks are all that Amulet has to offer. The film has no soul. That deadened feeling extends into the characters and it’s damn near impossible to find anything worth caring about in this script. The juicy horror elements feel like too little too late and the atmospheric heaviness of the film only seems to drag the film to a dirge. Pacing is the nail in the coffin for Amulet. To put it bluntly, once the impact of the production designs wears off, the film is a slog.
I have a baseline appreciation of what Amulet is trying to do. The film has a great deal of ambition and its goal of portraying a more complicated version of a rape-revenge plot is lofty. That being said, the film dwells too much in suggestion and keeps things so vague that its second storyline is not so readily apparent.
In the film, Tomaz is haunted by the sexual assault that he committed against a woman during his military service. Throughout the film, we get flashbacks to the image of a lonely soldier that seems to be pushed to the breaking point. We watch him wrestle with his guilt and his desire for Magda. It’s a complex picture, but with female vengeance at the core. The appearance of a female deity and the punishment of Tomaz by seeing his demons swell in his belly and be birthed into horrible truth is a kind of poetic justice. Director Romola Garai cites a book on international efforts to prosecute rape as a weapon of war as the inspiration for the piece.
The struggle between Tomaz and his guilt is one of the better elements of the film. That being said, the film would be much more cohesive if it was a meditation on the historic suffering that accompanies womanhood and motherhood. The trauma that many women face and the sacrifice and pain that mothers endure to raise daughters. While the punishment of Tomaz is the focus, it is the connection between Magda and her mother that is the most interesting.
Unfortunately, Amulet‘s whole is lesser than its parts. Amulet is a contained horror that oozes atmosphere but has such a big pacing problem that viewers come to resent all that meticulous attention to detail. When the action starts, fatigue has already set in and it’s a damn shame. As far as performances go, Alec Secareanu does a fantastic job in the leading role and it’s a joy to watch him. Which may be a saving grace for viewers
Amulet is coming to select theaters and on-demand on July 24, 2020.
Unfortunately,Â Amulet‘s whole is lesser than its parts.Â Amulet is a contained horror that oozes atmosphere but has such a big pacing problem that viewers come to resent all that meticulous attention to detail. When the action starts, fatigue has already set in and it’s a damn shame. As far as performances go, Alec Secareanu does a fantastic job in the leading role and it’s a joy to watch him.Â Which may be a saving grace for viewers
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Nightmarish Conjurings, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes.