July 22, 2020 Amulet (Movie Review)
Can you ever truly find forgiveness for your sins? One man is searching for the key to forgetting his past in Amulet, which arrives to select theaters, as well as On Demand, on Friday, July 24th, 2020, thanks to Magnolia Pictures and Magnet Releasing.
The film stars Carla Juri, Alec Secareanu, Imelda Staunton, and Angeliki Papoulia in a story fraught with flashbacks to a traumatic past. Homeless in London, former soldier Tomaz (Secareanu: God’s Own Country 2017, Strike Back series) encounters a kindly nun (Staunton: Shakespeare In Love 1998, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 2007) who finds him free room and board in exchange for helping out around a rotting, old home. Inside its dirty walls, he finds the lonely Magda (Juri: Wetlands 2013, Blade Runner 2049 2017), who has been charged with caring for her dying mother (Anah Ruddin: Pissed on the Job TV movie 2004, Get Me to the Church on Time short 2013), an elderly shut-in who never leaves the top floor.
Initially hesitant about this new situation, and tortured by flashbacks to a past interaction with a woman named Miriam (Papoulia: Dogtooth 2009, The Lobster 2015), Tomaz eventually allows his resistance to fade. As he grows closer to the mysterious Magda, familiarity and close proximity force him to realize that there is something truly strange and unexplainable happening inside the dilapidated walls that he has been asked to repair.
Amulet marks the feature-length debut of bold Writer-Director Romola Garai, a talented British actress known for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights (2004) and Atonement (2007). Choosing to take the road less traveled when it comes to plot, shocking visuals, and an unflappable pride in being intentionally freakish, the film begins as a languid-paced, elevated but retro-leaning Thriller. This is, of course, before it takes a severe turn late into its second act, one that massively alters the viewer’s takeaway and dips into heavy Supernatural Horror elements.
To bill the entire offering as gruesome seems misleading, as much of Amulet is delivered with a languid artfulness. Combining two timelines through the effective use of frequent flashbacks, Garai weaves a bleak tale that dips into folkloric feels and shreds of religiosity, but with an emphasis on the themes of violence, forgiveness, and the contagion of evil. She does this by shunning the status quo and thinking so far outside the box that, at times, Amulet is an exercise in perversity. For those viewers that can hang in, there is an important conversation embedded within the gore and bat creatures (which are remarkably well-done), and it leans toward the decidedly feminist.
To get there, Garai enlists a talented cast and crew who help bring her unusual screenplay to life. Particularly in the flashbacks to Tomaz’ time in the forest, there is a breathtaking focus on the naturally moody, foggy allure of the woods that is brought to life through the cinematography of Laura Bellingham (Siren short 2014, Extinction short 2019). In the story’s more subdued and muted moments early on, Bellingham’s camera work helps to establish a macabre mood that is maintained throughout. Thus, visually, Amulet delivers an elevated experience, one that reaches far beyond mass market Horror. Furthermore, as previously stated, when it does go out on a limb and includes grotesque body horror and peculiar creatures, the practical effects are amazingly executed.
All of this bolsters the confines in which the cast are existing, portraying a myriad of characters who all remain relatively flat, save for Secareanu’s Tomaz. In this, Secareanu becomes the focus: an ex-soldier who, down on his luck in all senses of the cliché, ends up in a situation that he simply cannot say no to. Ultimately, the external horrors of his world mirror the internal struggle with his past, one which he refers to as simply a “mistake,” as he promises that, despite his shortcomings, he is a good man. Secareanu is so convincing as this soft-spoken, kind-hearted man that we are unable to fathom what skeletons he might have hiding in that densely forested past. In fact, without Secareanu’s compelling and nuanced performance, the entirety of the film might collapse under the weight of its twisted premise.
Allowing their co-star to shine, Juri and Papoulia each maintain the lead female role in their respective timelines—Juri’s Magda in the present, Papoulia’s Miriam in the past. Though each is her own unique woman: Magda trapped in the suffocating relationship with her dying mother, Miriam forced to risk her life to be reunited with her daughter. These characters, though decidedly flat, still manage to provide a commentary on the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the devotion that we owe to those who have given us life. However, it is Staunton’s joyfully wicked performance that truly ignites the screen, the brassy actress both convincing as sweet Sister Claire and her fierce alter-ego.
So while Garai and her cast and crew do a lot right with Amulet, it is still not going to be a film for every moviegoer. Certainly the pacing is jerky at times and the lack of character development may be a turn off for some, all while the ultimate themes hidden inside its grim, savage textures may resonate differently with each viewer—particularly when it comes to their gender identity. If you come to the very end and still need a hint, ask yourself this: Is it enough just to say that you are a good person and to feel guilt for your sins? We don’t have the answer, but perhaps Amulet does. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the film 4 of 5 stars.