'Amulet' Review: Atmosphere Can't Save This Utter Bore [Sundance 2020]

Amulet is the type of film where you spend more time noticing the production design than you do giving a s*** about the story. A painfully slow slog, this horror film from Romola Garai has plenty of good ideas and a few neat creature effects, but that's not enough to salvage things. Some may come away thrilled with Amulet's big finish, which sends a message folks can get behind – especially in this day and age. But that doesn't excuse the rest of the movie.

Lonely immigrant and former soldier Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) is barely scraping by in London, working odd labor jobs and squatting wherever he can. He keeps to himself, and is frequently haunted by events from his military past. When a fire destroys his current residence, he ends up being discovered by an overly helpful nun (Imelda Staunton) who offers him a too-good-to-be-true arrangement: Tomaz can live in a big house rent-free, as long as he agrees to help with repairs.

The house belongs to Magda (Carla Juri) and her ill mother, who occupies an attic room and remains unseen. It doesn't take long before Tomaz notices something is amiss. He hears creepy sounds from that attic room, and he finds himself hallucinating and suffering from nightmares. He also finds himself growing closer to Magda, who is awkward and shy.

All of this unfolds at the pace of snail crawling through molasses. There's nothing wrong with a slow-burn horror movie, but the key to making that work is to keep things interesting. Amulet fails miserably on that front. The camera creeps and crawls along artwork, empty rooms, and rotten woodwork. It sets a nice, ominous atmosphere, but it get real old, real fast.

Secareanu is strong as the haunted Tomaz, and Juri brings enough tender mystery to her part to keep things interesting. But neither of their characters are particularly compelling, and you start to wonder why the heck we're supposed to be following these two. The constant cuts back to Tomaz's past are meant to fill in some blanks, but they only slow the movie down more.

As Amulet drags on, it starts to introduce some lively elements. At one point, Tomaz finds a hideous mutant bat in a clogged-up toilet – it's particularly icky and nasty, and hints at something that never really pays off. And while director Garai is able to conjure up a nice sense of dread, aided by a haunting score and immersive sound design, Amulet never ends up being very scary.

It's all building towards a conclusion that's full of big twists – some that work, others that make absolutely no sense at all. The conclusion is wrapped-up in a timely statement that audiences might grasp on to, to the point where it tricks them into thinking everything that came before it was better than it actually was. Don't be fooled. However enjoyable and satisfying the ending of Amulet might be, it doesn't excuse an otherwise painfully dull and pointless exercise in non-horror.

/Film Rating: 4 out of 10