Amulet, the feature directorial debut of actor Romola Garai, has had an odd path to UK cinemas, first debuting at Sundance way back pre-COVID in January 2020, and landing on the internet in almost every overseas territory in the 18 months since. Garai’s understated take on the genre nuts-and-bolts of possession horror has lead to a fairly muted rollout from press too, and not nearly as much online buzz as it might deserve. But with a stellar cast and some truly eye-popping effects work, this is very much worth a look; a bold, bloody and ultimately rather beautiful little genre release.

Former solider-turned-homeless labourer Tomaz (God’s Own Country’s Alec Secareanu) is swept up into a room in a crumbling old house, where he instantly connects with its only other resident, Magda (Carla Juri). But when weird, unhealthy-sounding noises from a back-room lead to Tomaz coming face-to-face with first a bat, and then Magda’s – how shall we say – seriously unwell mother, he finds himself stumbling onto something much more malicious, and potentially supernatural in origin.

It’s a mystery you’ll probably unlock yourself a little while before the script chooses to, but Amulet’s more often more interested in mood than anything else. The quiet build and eerie ambiguity that eventually becomes Garai’s calling card, ultimately serve the out-of-the-box visuals of the film’s final third, much more than they do the plot reveals. It’s far from narratively complex, but it’s safe to say that Garai does indeed have one motherfucker of a finale in her back-pocket, and that that gorgeously grim slow-burn of an opening hour is more than worth sticking through to see what she has in store.


Considering Garai’s background, her careful character work, and the heavy moral compass the film often bears, it is actually bit of a shock when Amulet finally sheds its skin and starts firing on all cylinders, too. The shift from social-realist-ish drama to all-out trans-dimensional horror definitely won’t work for everyone; some of the film’s heftier themes don’t sit quite as well with the campy reveals, and Secareanu tries his very best to muddle through the silliness with his stoicism still in check (and doesn’t always succeed). But even if thematically it doesn’t all tie together as well as it should, there’s definitely much to be admired in the visual feast Garai, cinematographer Laura Bellingham, and their entire visual effects team offer up in the final third.

Bellingham in particular deserves a shout here; while not quite as patient and sharp as her gothic lensing in Corinna Faith’s The Power, she does an incredible job of marrying the magical with the mundane here. From the sticky to the sublime, there’s an extra layer of texture to Amulet which is very often missing from films of a similar genre and budget level, and it’s ultimately one of the main reasons the film’s finale gets the reaction it does.

Whilst it’s far from novel in its storytelling, the worlds Amulet creates are well worth tripping through. It’s a confident, uneven but incredibly striking debut for Garai, and one that should no doubt put her (and her team) on any number of shortlists for higher-profile projects.

Amulet will be out in the UK on the 28th of January, 2022.