Amulet from filmmaker Romola Garai is a haunting, if not entirely satisfying horror movie. Ruminating on the themes of sins and accountability, we follow a homeless soldier Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) living in London after an incident in his home country. With luck being a fleeting commodity, the tide seems to turn when a nun (Imelda Staunton) connects Tomaz with a place to live. Magda (Carla Juri) lives alone in a three-story home, taking care of her dying mother. With plenty of room and Magda in need of help, Tomaz reluctantly moves in.
Hesitant to even eat the food offered him, Tomaz begins to loosen up and starts actively working on improvements around the house to earn his keep. Meanwhile, he is haunted by memories of his time serving as a border guard where he uncovers an amulet just under the topsoil in the forest. The ivory-colored figure is neutral in appearance and Tomaz is told that it is either the harbinger of doom or a protective charm. Helpful right?
As Tomaz whiles away his time making improvements on the home and reminiscing about the old country he begins to fall for Magda. Not all is perfectly rosy though. Odd noises thumping around in the attic at night aren’t doing him any favors in getting sleep and he begins to notice bite marks and other battle wounds that Magda sustains in the service of caring for her mother. Obviously there is a much darker, far sinister reasoning behind all of it.
The film, written and directed by Romola Garai, has a lot going for it. Garai has a very clear sense of story and tone. Maintaining two storylines, one of Tomaz’s past, and one of his present, we get a defined parallel storyline that ends in a satisfying merging of the two. Keeping the audience with you and driving home the exact points when necessary is the writer-directors strong suit. She also does well in the selection of her cast. Staunton chews the scenery, spits it out, and the has the leftovers. Her performance is delightful. Too Secareanu and Juri maintain intense performances that seal the action.
What makes this horror pic less than perfect are the scares that seem predictable and only occasionally effective. Admittedly there are a few great jump-scares to be had. Yet for all of the mood, Amulet could have leaned in more toward the end with a bit more of its horror. Thankfully, what’s there is polished and quite effective mostly.
Qualms aside, Amulet is, overall, an effective bit of horror that stays with you long after the credits roll and the lights come up. The pic features a delicious performance… AGAIN by Staunton who utilizes her stature and voice to shrill, boorish effect towards the end. This is horror in the most internal meaning of accountability has never been so important to mine for scares. Scare us, entertain us, teach us. Amulet mostly does all three. Very nicely done.