I went into the screening of AMULET totally blind and I think that was probably the best way to see it. AMULET is directed by Romola Garai and stars Carla Juri (Magda), Alec Secareanu (Tomaz), Imelda Staunton (Sister Claire), and Angeliki Papoulia (Miriam). It is a slow burn and feminist horror movie about justice for the perpetrators of sexual violence against women. It’s hard to speak of the plot without giving too much away, but the basics are these: a refugee soldier, Tomaz, of an unnamed Eastern European conflict with PTSD tries to survive in London who has terrifying dreams that are so bad he binds his own arms and legs before sleep. When his squat is set on fire one night after the homeless immigrants are taunted by anti-immigrant thugs, he is warned by another homeless person to leave but is overcome by smoke once he finally makes it to the street. He sees a nun before passing out. He wakes in the hospital to find his money gone and the nun visits him and gives him the option of staying with a local family in return for handyman duties and repairing their decaying home or being out on the street again. He meets Magda, a shy and repressed woman who cares for her sick mother who seems terrified and bullied by the invalid. He doesn’t want to stay and Magda doesn’t want him to either but since he has no money and she needs help and company, he stays. Slowly, he comes to realize that more is going on in the house than he first realized as his memories of his time in the war return to him. Increasingly bizarre things start to happen and he starts to question what exactly is going on in the house and with the family he has started to trust.
Romola Garai, as writer and director of her first feature, has composed a quiet poem to violence and retribution. When one usually thinks of genre explorations of sexual violence, you usually expect a bloody and cathartic rager. AMULET is different but no less affecting for having taken a different route. The movie is filled with golden light and tone that is also different from most films of this subgenre. It belongs more to the sunlight horror faction than anything else and reminds me more of Joseph Losey’s Secret Ceremony, which was actually a bit more modern in terms of sexual politics than most people realize, than Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge. Part of this is the thematic element of how people mentally recategorize the evil that they do to tell themselves that they are not bad people and the intentionally stylized cinematography of each of the sections of the films, present-day London, inside the house, and the flashbacks to the war. Each section is differentiated through the cinematography of DP Laura Bellingham with the use of different lenses for each of the sections. Romola Garai directs the actors, who were very well chosen for their roles, with sensitivity. Carla Juri plays an almost childlike and innocent Magda who seems much too fragile for the situation she is stuck in. Alec Secareanu gains your sympathy with his intelligence and his intensity. Imelda Staunton is a delight as the woman of faith who may not be exactly what she seems. Angeliki Papoulia touches your heart with her almost wordless performance of a traumatized victim of violence who is taken in by Tomaz.
AMULET is a well done and affecting film of justice coming to the perpetrators of violence through means you would not normally expect. Quiet but unrelenting, it winds its tentacles around those who imagined that they had gotten away clean.