Gothic horror Amulet is a promising directorial debut from actress Romola Garai, but the screenplay is too ambitious for its own good. Read the rest of our Sundance Film Festival coverage here.
Actress turned writer-director Romola Garai has visual flair and an impeccable taste in European actors, but the screenplay of her feature debut, Amulet, leaves much to be desired. Garai’s horror film follows Tomaz (God’s Own Country’s Alec Secareanu) in two intertwining timelines: his past as a soldier in a wartorn country, and his present as a homeless man in London who takes refuge in the mysterious house of Magda (Carla Juri), a spiritual young woman, whose ailing mother lurks in the attic. Garai ‘s non-chronological structural conceit is an admirably ambitious attempt to present an unreliable narrator whose morals are never clear until the end. But Garai’s twisty spiderweb narrative ends up too confusing for its own good, leaving the viewer too lost to be invested.
Still, Garai is a promising upcoming voice in horror: she has a knack for gothic imagery and a desire to challenge her audience in interesting ways. The places Garai takes her story are so delightfully odd and challenging that it’s a real shame the film doesn’t work better as a whole. Plus, as can often be expected from actors who become filmmakers, she knows how to direct her cast. Secareanu is gruffer and moodier than his sweet role in God’s Own Country, and it’s great to see him given so much to play with. The same goes for Swiss actress Carla Juri, who was a scene stealer in the otherwise drab Blade Runner 2049, and gets more to do here in a meaty role. Imelda Staunton has a lot of fun as a nun with devious secrets. It’s always nice to see Angeliki Papoulia, of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Dogtooth, on screen, although it’s a shame that she’s saddled with the drabbest and least fleshed out storyline in the film.