Amulet is a cool, stylish chiller whose themes sneak up on you. For a while, it isn't clear where the story is headed. The more information it provides, the clearer its intentions reveal themselves to be. As with most horror movies, there are shocking scenes, one of which – involving a toilet – is among the most wonderfully repugnant I've ever seen. At the same time, like the current Relic, those shocks are intimately tied in to the ideas being explored in the story. Amulet is ambitious art-horror.
Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) is a former soldier. From flashbacks, we can see that he went through something traumatic, despite the seemingly benign assignment of guarding a remote crossing station. Now he's homeless in London. One day, he meets a kindly nun, Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton), who offers to help him. She puts him up in a home with a troubled woman named Magda (Carla Juri) who is caring for her dying mother (Anah Ruddin). Tomaz does some odd jobs around the house, getting a look at Mother in the process. It's immediately clear that she isn't just an elderly woman nearing the end of her days. She's something else.
To quote Forrest Gump, that's all I have to say about that.
If you're looking for something to squirm at, Amulet has you covered. In addition to the aforementioned toilet scene, there are one or two other bits that provide a good old-fashioned gross-out. Writer/director Romola Garai (an actress best known for Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and the BBC series The Hour) isn't afraid to venture into disturbing places. Great credit must go to her effects team for their work in bringing her ideas to life. Some CGI may have been used here, but a lot of it was done practically, and the results are top-tier.
Garai has more on her mind than freakiness, though. At its core, Amulet is a feminist tale about a man who thinks he has to play white knight with women. The flashbacks show Tomaz helping a frightened woman who comes flying down the road toward his post. She's the first one he tries to “save.” Once realizing what's happening with Mother, he tries to save Magda, too. What he doesn't realize is that 1.) his impulses aren't always as pure as he thinks; and 2.) these women don't need saving. I love the way this character fails to sense that he's in over his head. The female characters are the smarter, stronger ones here. To say he eventually learns this the hard way would be an understatement. Not only does his ignorance build tension, it also turns Amulet into a smart tale about the hazards of misplaced masculinity.
All the performances are good, but I feel the need to single out Imelda Staunton. The ever-reliable British actress has a role that, in the wrong hands, could have felt like a cliche. She's so convincing showing the various sides of Sister Claire that it ends up making a huge impact, even though she's only in a few scenes. Amulet is a little slow to ramp up, and might have benefited from a slightly more concrete ending. Nevertheless, Staunton's efforts combine with a moody atmosphere and gruesome effects to deliver an awesomely twisted chiller with a point of view.
out of four
Amulet is rated R for some strong violence, bloody images, a sexual assault, and brief language and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.