Amulet, now in theaters and available on Premium Video on Demand, is the feature debut, written and directed, by established actor, Romola Garai. Unlike many actors-turned-director, who might opt for an indie drama or romantic comedy, Garai dives head-first into a non-linear, surreal horror movie. She certainly did not choose the safe route.
The film opens on a remote, forested checkpoint. A single soldier, Tomas (Alec Secareanu) mans the post. We are shown quick moments of Tomaz unearthing a small figurine in the mossy soil, then later, a lone woman running toward the checkpoint. This is the beginning of one story thread and one mystery.
The second story thread begins sometime later than the opening scene. We now meet Tomas, bearded, living a nearly homeless life in London. He is quickly taken under the protective wing of Sister Claire (played by the always amazing Imelda Staunton). Sister Claire sees a man in need of a purpose, finding him a handyman position with a young woman, Magda (Carla Juri). Magda needs the help because she is already over-taxed, caring for her invalid mother, a mother we don’t see, but only hear moaning pitifully from an attic room.
‘Amulet’ writer/director Romola Garai talks about her love for the 2018 feature Border:
The remainder of the movie interweaves the two stories, slowly unravelling dark secrets. But, what is difficult to describe about Amulet, is the tone. Amulet oozes a sort of surreal evil from its pores. The soundscape is a mix of choirs and folk chants with chimes and backwards loops of sound. The visual approach is sometimes dreamy, sometimes grounded and literal. And, then, the final act.
The final act sews together the two plot threads, answering most of the mysteries, while creating a few new questions about the forces driving these characters together. Garai offers surprising elements of body horror, retribution, feminist theory, and a few moments that rise to Ken Russell levels of surreal insanity. The lengths to which the viewer accepts this final act will determine if Amulet hits or misses its mark. For myself, Amulet was bravura, near-visionary, filmmaking.