An ex-soldier, living homeless in London, is offered a place to stay at a decaying house inhabited by a young woman and her dying mother. As he starts to fall for her, he cannot ignore his suspicion that something sinister is going on.
Ever watch a movie where, halfway through, you realize you utterly dislike the film even though it is a technically proficient piece of work?
Say hello to “Amulet”.
I’m sure there will be people who will think I’m a gutter snipe for not touting this film that seems to appeal to those who feel horror should be deep, meaningful, and profound. Even I will admit that I’m not always able to read every nuance of symbolism and metaphor. That being said, there is a limit. “Amulet” stepped beyond a few of those limits and not in a good way.
Warning: There will be spoilers.
Tomas is crashing in a squatter’s den in a large city. Given his vivid dreams and the fact he tapes his hands together when he sleeps, he is definitely troubled by something.
In his dreams, he is reliving his time as a border guard in a warzone. Stationed in the middle of a vast forest, he survived alone with his philosophy books as he stood his post and wrote his dissertation for a doctorate in philosophy. One day, he digs up a strange figurine of an otherworldly female. He saves it.
While minding his own business, a woman comes running up the road to his desolate post. As he screams for her to stop before he is forced to shoot her, she collapses. He takes her in and feeds and cares for her. She is trying to get to her daughter from whom she was separated when the conflict started. Tomas allows her to stay in his hut and even hides her from the other soldiers who pass through his checkpoint.
In his current situation in the large city, a fire in his squat leaves him on the street and injured. He is found by a nun. After he is treated for his injuries, she offers Tomas a situation that may help him. She arranges for him to stay with and work for a woman, Magda, who is caring for her terminally ill mother.
Well, some things are too good to be true. Even as he finds himself becoming attracted to the woman, many strange things happen. He finds a mutated bat creature clogging the toilet. He sees ancient symbols to ward off or contain evil as he attempts to repair the house. The relationship between the mother and daughter is unusual, complicated by the mother being confined in the attic where she lives in rags and filth and is ferociously attacking the younger woman.
The whole time, Tomas can feel the weird events in the house are exacerbating whatever internal demons he is dealing with.
The setup is painfully slow, but a slow burn horror can be the best when you get the right resolution. Given the lovely visuals of the forest in his dreams and the claustrophobic nature of the decay house he finds himself trapped in, hopes for a powerhouse ending grow large.
It seems that everything is not as simple as it would appear.
Magda’s mother is not her mother. It is a guy who killed his wife so he could marry his own daughter, according to a convenient piece of newspaper in the attic. His punishment is to give birth to these demonic bat creatures while Magda keeps him alive. Barely. When Tomas discovers this, he suddenly remembers sexually assaulting the woman he had been caring for while stationed in the forest.
Guess who’s next on the list to pump out these freaky creatures.
I can deal with some man bashing. I accept that men, as well as women, have done some truly horrible things. If that was the only issue the film had, I could just shrug and say, “Well, you kinda have a point, though you didn’t have to bore me while getting there.”
Instead, let’s focus on Tomas. The sudden revelation that he ultimately chased down the woman he’d been helping in the forest and raped her flies in the face of every single piece of information we’ve been shown about him up to that point. Pure manipulation to achieve the ending. That is weak writing, and it undermines the glacially-slow buildup the film forces the audience through.
Let’s look at it from another angle, though.
Remember the figurine Tomas seemed to randomly dig up towards the beginning of the film? Well, that is a representation of Magda’s supposed true form, which we are shown near the film’s end. The discovery of the figurine seems random. What if he was drawn to it as a warning of what his fate would be? Was he fated to transgress against women, apparently against his nature? If so, then why play it as justice if he was forced into his actions to justify the ending? Again, pure manipulation and weak writing.
Combining a leaden pace with an ending that does not feel justified or organic turns what could have been a beautifully rendered, slow burn horror film into a protracted slap across the audience’s collective face.