Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Movie Review: Amulet

Amulet *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Romola Garai.
Written by: Romola Garai.
Starring: Carla Juri (Magda), Alec Secareanu (Tomas), Imelda Staunton (Sister Claire), Anah Ruddin (Mother), Angeliki Papoulia (Miriam), Elowen Harris (Dina), William E. Lester (Mother - voice).

Actress Romola Garai makes a promising directorial debut with the feminist horror parable Amulet. You don’t quite realize just how feminist it is until the final act, as Garai only slowly reveals the truth about the all the people involved – but the finale really does hit hard. The film is gorgeous to look at – clearly inspired by giallo horror movies, Garai has made a visual stunner. Her storytelling is perhaps not quite up to that level – there is perhaps too many twists and turns, handled a little awkwardly – and the confusion the audience feels at certain points is perhaps not entirely on purpose. Yet, overall, Amulet marks the announcement of a major new talent behind the camera for horror movies – and I cannot wait to see what happens next in her career.

Tomas (Alec Secareanu) is a day laborer living in extreme poverty on the outskirts of London. A former soldier, racked with guilt over his actions in “the war” (what war, is not really made clear – and what he feels so guilty about only becomes somewhat clear as the film moves along). With nowhere to go, when he receives an offer from a kindly nun – Sister Claire (played by Imelda Staunton, giving you the first sign that you shouldn’t trust her) – he gladly takes it. Tomas will work as a handyman of sorts for Magda (Carla Juri) – who lives in a large, dilapidated, remote house as she cares for her dying mother (Anah Ruddin). It quickly becomes clear though that Mother isn’t just some sick old woman – she is possessed by some ancient evil – or may well be the ancient evil made flesh. Magda is trapped with her until Mother dies anyway, and Tomas is there to help. You sense immediately though that Tomas is uncomfortable – the way he looks at Magda brings up mixed feelings in both him and the audience.

Garai reveals the truth behind all of these characters – but does so slowly – perhaps too slowly for genre fans who just want to get to the bloody climax of the movie (rest assured genre fans, when Garai finally does go for broke in those final minutes, it is worth the wait). The film mixes different horror genres in its one film – it is a tale of possession of course, but it eventually makes it clear that it is also a feminist take on the rape/revenge film – that stands aside something like Coralie Fargeat’s underrated/underseen Revenge as an attempt by female filmmakers to take the genre back from its pure exploitation roots. Tomas is a complicated figure – he wants to “free” Magda from whatever curse is on her that forces her to stay alongside mother – as if doing so will free him of his sins. But, as the film makes clear, it may not be enough – you cannot simply make up for a bad deed with a good one. Tomas though is a more complicated figure than we normally see in this type of movie – and Secareanu’s performance is quite good at navigating the different aspects of him. The same is true for Juri’s Magda – and her performance, which really is something in the final act. Up until then, the structure and storytelling do somewhat limit her – as Garai doesn’t want to give the game away. An old pro like Staunton is also quite good as Sister Claire – making the film’s simplest main character into something interesting.

It really is the visuals though that make Amulet something to behold. Garai takes great care with the cinematography and sound design to create atmosphere – and the production design on the house is also quite special – without it, the film would likely fall apart. Garai is clearly a talented – and ambitious – filmmaker. Perhaps, too ambitious with this first film – the flashback structure and storytelling is a little confusing at times – but she more than makes up for it with the visuals, the performances and ideas. I cannot wait to see what she does next.

No comments:

Post a Comment