Amulet (2020) ** – Seen at the Cinema

Succession has a lot to answer for. Even demons stuck in the attic are now looking for an heir. Even demons who either puke up or give birth to hairless bats – it’s unclear which. A lot is unclear here, deliberately opaque, artistically opaque or, worst, carelessly opaque, like someone who can’t be bothered to join up any dots. Horror films rich in atmosphere are often short of the elements that make a good horror film.

Eastern European (no clue as to which country) Tomas (Alec Secareanu) who was once a border guard (or two miles away from the border and no clue as to why two miles away from the border was important) is working on a London building site when a fire renders him homeless. Spotted on the street by Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton), she provides him with shelter in a run-down house inhabited by Magda (Carla Juri) on the assumption he can spruce the place up a bit. Although a handyman, he does nothing, doesn’t scrape down any walls, fix a roof, or anything sensible. Instead, he takes a chisel to the ceiling (reason unexplained) where he uncovers something only he can see.

Magda is clearly unhinged, though she is a good cook. The longer the film went on I was hoping she was secretly poisoning him because the movie takes too long to go anywhere and by that time you’re already far ahead of the film. One of the reasons the movie is so reluctant to engage in a proper narrative is that the director delights in loitering over images of a snail, or the inside of a gutted fish or pans with what appears longing to the tops of very tall trees.

Occasionally, we get a flashback. Let me tell you how important this guard post is. It’s in a forest road in the middle of nowhere (all right then, two miles from the border). Tomas guards it during the day, but at night anyone could walk past. He’s not one half of a shift. He spends his time reading philosophy which makes him an “interesting character.”

Given he’s got nothing else to do all day it eventually occurs to Tomas there’s something odd going on what with banging on the ceiling and the occasional eye appearing through the cracks and someone nasty stabbing Magda when she peers through a keyhole. Turns out she is “looking after” her dying mother, although her definition of care leaves a lot to the imagination. When not adding to the world’s supply of bats, her ancient crone of a mother crawls around in a bare attic.

Not surprisingly, the good nun turns out not to be even a bad nun but not a nun at all – who would have guessed it? But in on the whole Succession business.

All this would have been fine – many horror films are pure barmy – if there was even one tiny scare, even an inkling of one. Horror movies, in case anyone has forgotten, are meant to scare the living daylights out of you. Either you get to jump in the cinema or if it’s the more subtle kind of horror picture it keeps you up at night worrying about the potential implications. The amulet turns out not to be a red herring as such but definitely not up to scratch.

I’m sure Carla Juri and Alex Secareanu are good actors, but the material here is so scant you never get the chance to find out. I never believed for a minute that Imelda Staunton was a nun, whether good or bad.

I thought we might at least be able to blame the National Lottery, the British Film Institute, the BBC or Channel four – the most common funding sources for stinkers – but it seems this was independently made. Debut director Romola Garai can’t even blame the script since she wrote the damn thing. Her talent as an actor (Miss Marx, 2020) hasn’t been duplicated here though she may improve given a second chance and a better script or script editor.  

In cinemas now – where I saw it. I should point out that I pay for my cinema ticket.

Author: Brian Hannan

I am a published author of books about film - over a dozen to my name, the latest being "When Women Ruled Hollywood." As the title of the blog suggests, this is a site devoted to movies of the 1960s but since I go to the movies twice a week - an old-fashioned double-bill of my own choosing - I might occasionally slip in a review of a contemporary picture.

4 thoughts on “Amulet (2020) ** – Seen at the Cinema”

  1. Hmm. I didn’t much care for it, but I think I liked it a bit more than you. Guess there was a feminist message to it, but even that was kind of wonky at the end. The border post was a bit silly, but a nice job if you just want someplace quiet to do some reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ideal job in some ways like a student becoming a night porter in a hotel. Shame not to like it because I like Garai as an actor and was hoping this would bring her a new career. But it’s her first movie and hopefully she’s learned enough. Less atmosphere, more action or drama and maybe she was constrained in her subject matter because that was where the funding was.


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