Written and directed by Romola Garai, an ex-soldier, living homeless in London, is offered a place to stay at a decaying house inhabited by a young woman and her dying mother. As he starts to fall for her, he cannot ignore his suspicion that something sinister is going on. Starring: Carla Juri, Alec Secareanu, Imelda Staunton, Anah Ruddin and Angeliki Papoulia.
Things start out well for Amulet, it hits horror right on the head by diving into an eery woodland opening, involving a lone soul, digging and finding a talisman with evil potential. However, while it does continue to hit some familiar horror notes, it struggles to ever establish its identity. Having a vague or even confusing story is passable in such a varied genre but you have to build an atmosphere, you have to have tension, suspense, fear or foreboding and this film can’t quite bring any of that to the table. Sadly it’s apparent quite quickly that there’s a big lack of atmosphere, an aspect which isn’t helped by the minimal and mistimed use of its score. The direction also feels slightly stilted, while you can never go wrong with a good shot of the forest, there’s a lot of low angles and forced slow movements which try to push a perspective which doesn’t quite work.
Romola Garai’s writing is similarly problematic, it holds back too much and then throws overt additions into the mix in an attempt at shock, which is wholly transparent and clumsy. Adding in a romantic vein is predictable and doesn’t have a lot to add. The progression isn’t paced out very well, it moves slowly then when it finally does reveal its big design, it’s too early and can’t hold your attention while it tries to unfold everything. There’s also an issue in the fact that what it does reveal, entirely undermines what you’ve been given until then, as well as a final moment which feels like it made sense to the filmmakers but doesn’t translate to the audience. Not to mention that it completely changes style in its final scenes, into something it isn’t prepared for or capable of pulling off.
However, the performances are actually strong here, it’s just a shame that it brings not one but two actresses to the table, for whom it does little justice. Imelda Staunton is a force to be reckoned with and Amulet does not take advantage of that, there’s the tease of her potential but not the time to fully explore it. Angeliki Papoulia, who fans may recognise from her frequent collaboration with Yorgos Lanthimos, has a strength which again is not given its due, she could have added so much more but is given a character who feels more like a passenger on this story. While there’s yet to be another film to top Alec Secareanu’s career high of God’s Own Country, he brings a lot of emotion to the table. There’s a number of avenues left unexplored to his character, which make more sense as time goes on but it would have been helpful to have rounded out his personality more, especially in such a vague environment.
Amulet is unfortunately a swing and a miss, the story isn’t entirely original and for the most part its atmosphere and aesthetic fall flat. It has some solid pieces to put together, and it attempts for something along the lines of Relic but Garai simply does not have James’ eye for haunting detail. It plays it overly simple then has a last minute dash for the complex and the two don’t mesh together, ultimately ending up digging a hole for itself that it can’t get out of.