Review by Sean Boelman
As if the world is facing a crisis that has forced much of society to stay indoors, this month has seen the release of multiple home-bound horror flicks hoping to capitalize on current anxieties. The latest of these, Romola Garai’s directorial debut Amulet, has some interesting ideas and a great use of atmosphere, but goes too off-the-rails in the final act to work particularly well.
The film follows a homeless former soldier who is offered refuge in a decrepit house by a young woman and her ailing mother, only to discover that something much more sinister may be afoot. The first hour or so is very intriguing, hooking in the audience with the promise of an eerie haunted house tale, but Garai’s attempts at doing something much more ambitious with the finale don’t exactly pay off.
Arguably the biggest issues with this movie lie in its pacing and tone. For much of the film, Garai invests in the atmosphere with slow-burn suspense and the occasional jump scare. However, in trying to make the final act feel more “scary”, the movie instead starts to feel ridiculous and schlocky, in stark contrast to the relatively grounded first act.
Without a doubt, the strongest part of the film is its character development. The protagonist’s arc is quite compelling, giving the narrative a solid emotional core. Unfortunately, like so many other parts of this movie, the last thirty minutes fumble the resolution, especially in relation to an epilogue that is far too convenient to be believable.
There are some interesting ideas at play within the script, but the film is pretty clearly divided into two halves as to what it is discussing. The first (more interesting) portion focuses on the experiences the protagonist has with his PTSD. The second, which is underdeveloped, explores the idea of servitude.
One of the other things that keeps the movie working is the strong cast. Alec Secareanu is solid in his leading role, but it is the supporting players who stand out here. European indie actresses Carla Juri and Angeliki Papoulia are both great, each adding a different layer to the script. Imelda Staunton is also extremely fun to watch in her small but pivotal part.
Garai clearly has an interesting style behind the camera, especially in relation to the way in which she builds suspense. Apart from a few visual effects towards the end that are lackluster, the film looks pretty creepy. The most impressive part of the execution, though, is the score by Sarah Angliss, which is absolutely haunting.
Amulet starts strongly, but ultimately, it ends up faltering to a burning halt. The interesting ideas and unsettling visuals on display can’t save the movie from a script that is poorly-paced and severely lacking in nuance.
Amulet hits VOD on July 24.