Romola Garai, star of films such as Atonement and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, takes a terrifying turn behind the camera for Amulet, a truly bizarre and unsettling horror flick. The lack of dialogue and ricocheting timeline in the opening sequence are mysteriously ominous. The film moves back and forth between an isolated outpost in the dark shroud of a deep forest where the soldier Tomaz (the broodingly handsome Alec Secareanu), encounters a refugee (Angeliki Papoulia), and modern-day London where he struggles to find work as a builder. There, he meets a deceptively caring nun (Imelda Staunton) who brings him to a ramshackle home to work as a caretaker.
The other occupants are the mousy, quiet Magda (Carla Juri) and her mother—a pale, gnarled invalid in constant pain burrowed in the corner of an upstairs room. Tomaz eventually bonds with Magda, a melancholy young woman who has been isolated since having to care for her ailing mother. The house is wasting away as grime fills the corners, mold covers the ceiling, and the wallpaper peels; the muted, yellowish cinematography of the crumbling interiors looks like the elderly woman’s sickness has infected the entire abode. Within the walls of this strange, decrepit cottage, the horrors of Tomaz’s past in the forest seem impossible to forget. There is one memory that grips him the most: his discovery of an ancient talisman buried near his cabin.
With carefully labored pacing, Amulet takes its time to reveal the disturbing and shocking connection between Tomaz’s troubled wartime memories and his new employers. The discovery of an albino, blood-covered bat stuffed into a toilet sets off the strange series of events that escalate into a gory ballet of violence. Garai builds to a truly bonkers final twist that feels like Rosemary’s Baby on acid. Beneath the shock treatment and body horror lies a murky pro-feminist commentary on fate, the nature of evil, and absolution. The boldly ambitious and psychedelic Amulet is ultimately too cryptic for its own good; you are unsure of the characters’ motivations or what exactly Garai is trying to say. Although in need of clarity or tighter script-writing, Amulet establishes Garai as a daring directorial voice with a strong visual imagination. Recommended.