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New to VOD - AMULET

amulet review
An immigrant with a dark past takes a room in a London house with a sinister secret.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Romola Garai

Starring: Alec Secareanu, Carla Juri, Imelda Staunton, Angeliki Papoulia, Anah Ruddin

amulet poster

Romola Garai’s debut Amulet is an intriguing entry into the ‘terraced gothic’ subgenre, a small, oppressive type of horror film characterised by last year’s lauded His House (and which I, Benjamin Poole, have just coined the name of). In this particularly British mode of horror, an outsider does their best to get on in a hostile working-class Britain, with the action primarily taking place in dilapidated homes which host supernatural threats potentially more harmful than anything lurking in the cold, wet streets outside. The visual set of damp walls, stained lino and peeling wallpaper was established in early entries like 1998’s Urban Ghost Story and perfected by the art design of certain Inside No.9 episodes: domestic environments which act as derelict extensions of the protagonist’s damaged psyche, and which commit that sweet sense of hauntology, too (I suppose there are elements of the subgenre’s iconography in Last Night in Soho, too).

amulet review

In Amulet we follow Tomas (Alec Secareanu), an ex-solider from some European territory, who is given room and board by Imelda Staunton’s Sister Claire, an ostensibly kind-hearted nun who runs a town house which provides sanctuary for women. The abstract presentation of Tomas’ past is deliberate, and feeds into the moody, hypnagogic ambiance of Garai’s film. More concrete though is how Garai constructs Tomas, who is defined by his traditional masculinity: Sister Claire hires this ex-combatant specifically to fix and maintain the house - "it’s falling apart around their ears." Playing his part, Tomas reacts to the placement by immediately falling in love with one of the occupants (the demure Magda, Carla Juri).


Giving us space from the eerie claustrophobia of the town house, the forbidding angles and oppressive atmosphere of which Garai’s camera deftly makes the most of, we flashback to Tomas’ military past. In a dense forest he mans some sort of checkpoint, where one morning he meets Miriam, a mysterious woman played by Angeliki Papoulia, who rocks up at Tomas’ in distress and on the run, looking for her daughter in a village "two days away." Awkward and initially courteous, Tomas’ physicality around Miriam, and the lingering looks which the camera slyly reveals, give clues to his underlying impulses. In the fertile soil of the woods, Tomas uncovers the titular amulet, a feminine fetish with a shell-like halo, giving it to Miriam as a protective talisman.

amulet review

In the present, things get weird. Brittle sound design amplifies everyday noise, and close ups make even the act of eating a nice cake seem foreboding: this is genre atmosphere to chew on. With a grim inevitability, features of the amulet manifest within the house, and the memories the emblems evoke seem to repulse Tomas. Along with the strange wails from the attic, creeping rot on the walls and the push/pull of his relationship with Magda, the most immutable clue that something is up with the house occurs when Tomas unblocks the toilet and inadvertently releases an absolutely fucking terrifying hairless bat thing from the u-bend. The imagery of squealing, smooth wet deformity is unpleasantly reminiscent of birth gone wrong: an effectively abject demonstration of Garai’s gendered imagery.


The creature disrupts the impeccable dread of the first act, catalysing the narrative as we descend deeper into fairy tale motifs (the urtexts of gender implications) and the twin mysteries of what exactly does dwell in the attic (‘terraced gothic’- it’s happening!) along with what ugliness Tomas is running from. The film leaves it to you to decide which is the worse of two resolutions...

amulet review

Ultimately, there is perhaps a little more going on in Amulet than the film can satisfyingly cope with, and the heady, adumbrate tempo overwhelms its pointed plot specifics, but within the horror landscape it's cheering to see a film with such ominous imagination, along with a keen, original eye to express it. A recommendation for watching - I serendipitously fell asleep in front of the film first go (a result of my never stop never stopping lifestyle, not a comment on the film). Waking up to the onscreen screams of a chiropteran foetus terror, I shook the nap off, went for a walk around the garden and restarted the film from scratch. Still in that half waking state in the small hours, Amulet bled into my imagination, feeling its way into my slumberous flesh. Watch it before bed: a waking nightmare.

Amulet is on UK/ROI VOD now.



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