KELLY HOOY reviews Amulet, a gothic horror film on female rage, directed by Romola Garai. 


Romola Garai’s debut film, Amulet (2020), is a bold yet meticulous step into the supernatural horror genre. While conventional horror elements – a dilapidated house, demonic symbolism and piercing silence – are all present in the film, Garai seizes an opportunity to weave these tried and tested motifs into a tapestry of her own, saving the narrative from becoming yet another stale horror flick. Amulet tells a story of guilt, motherhood and female rage, all under a blanket of head-spinning surrealism that is sure to leave one pondering it, long after the credits finish rolling (they roll backwards, from the bottom of the screen to the top – yet another departure from convention).


Alec Secareanu as Tomaz.
Alec Secareanu as Tomaz. Image Source: Magnet Releasing


Amulet tells the story of an ex-soldier, Tomaz (Alec Secareanu), left homeless after a fire. He is offered shelter by a nun, Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton) and ends up helping care for an old house occupied by a young woman, Magda (Carla Juri) and her dying mother. As Tomaz’s relationship with Magda grows stronger and his flashbacks haunt him more frequently, Tomaz is confronted by the sinister gloom that pervades the home that they now share. 


The titular Amulet. Image Source: Magnet Releasing

One of Garai’s greatest accomplishments is the impeccable use of symbolism throughout the film, lending the story a mythical air. The titular ‘amulet’ refers to a female figurine adorned with a shell-like halo, which Tomaz uncovers under a bed of soil in the woods during his time as a soldier, and gives to Miriam (Angeliki Papoulia), a woman who shows up at Tomaz’s checkpoint seeking refuge. Later on, hints of the supposedly protective amulet are scattered across Magda’s derelict house, spurring Tomaz’s flashbacks and sending him into increasingly uncontrolled distress. Grimly mirroring the shell’s symbolic meaning of birth and resurrection is a half-dead, hairless bat that Tomaz fishes from the toilet bowl. Squealing, contorting and thrashing wildly after moments of stillness, the bat is reminiscent of an unpleasant birth, which ties neatly into the wider motif of feminine rage, underlying the film.


Immersing the audience in a sense of inevitable dread, Garai brings us into Magda’s claustrophobic world in the dilapidated townhouse. The decay is almost palpable. Garai uses the film’s setting as a sensorial playground – damp crevices, gurgling water pipes and peeling walls all point toward the psychological and spiritual rot that slowly consumes the house and the people inhabiting it. The woods in Tomaz’s memory act as a diametrical opposite, an endless expanse of tall trees with long, thin trunks propping a canopy that almost touches the sky.  Ironically, Tomaz feels as trapped by his own recollections of the woods as the suffocating house that signals his doom, adding to conceptions of Tomaz as a character to be both pitied and abhorred for the way he is confined to chaos, yet a chaos that he brought on himself. 

Sister Claire (Imelda Staunton) and Magda (Carla Juri). Image Source: Magnet Releasing


From heroes to villains, Garai displays a great flexibility in character work, adding shades of gray between the poles of absolutist morality. Characters in Amulet are never as they first appear, nor do they remain static once truths are revealed. Garai aimed to swing the audience’s impressions of each character like a pendulum, and she achieved her goal. While each character was conscientiously written as a fully fleshed out individual, the film could have developed the relationships between them further, as well as the stiff tonal changes throughout the narrative. 

Ultimately, Amulet distinguishes itself from other films in the horror landscape by adopting a narrative that is stylistically haunting, and simultaneously comes across as didactic. Garai’s originality and personal touch as a female director is refreshing, and I look forward to seeing more of her work in the horror scene as she explores the vastness of a genre brimming with potential.




Thanks to BFI Southbank for providing tickets. Amulet previewed at the BFI Southbank as part of BFI’s Woman With a Movie Camera powered by Jaguar on 21 January 2022.


Featured Image: Magnet Releasing

CategoriesFilm Kelly Hooy