While Amulet follows the narrative arc of many other possession horrors, from The Exorcist all the way to Hereditary, its themes on modern Britain’s attitudes towards asylum seekers make it particularly interesting, joining a rapidly growing canon of refugee and immigration annals in the genre.
Immigration is a core theme in recent pictures Blind Sun, Under the Shadow and His House, paralleling supernatural and psychological horror with the horrors refugees endure in their native homelands (and often struggle to flee mentally). Amulet is no different. While protagonist Tomas uproots the terrifying truths buried inside his new London home, he simultaneously has to come to terms with his recurring nightmares and atrocities from the past.
British director Romola Garai pushes this theme further, using her characters and locations to capture the refugee experience. For example, Magda, Tomas’ new housemate and an immigrant herself, tells him: “I didn’t ask you to come here.” And Tomas’ rescuer Sister Claire, in describing her church, says: “The worst troubles, secrets, the deepest pains of existence, find their way into these walls. This isn’t a sanctuary. This is a crucible.” Sister Claire’s church, arguably, symbolises Great Britain itself. A crucible more than a sanctuary for refugees unable to recover from past and present pain. The ending’s descent into body horror, perhaps, is representative of these internal traumas, even though Tomas proves to be a morally flawed character.
While this allegory seethes on its underbelly, Amulet, on its surface, is a disturbing and enigmatic picture. The house itself delivers constant tension and discomfort, with Magda’s dying, attic-dwelling mother and Tomas’ past flooding its decaying rooms and corridors with ominous despair. Garai’s notably brighter shots outside the house, which glow with natural light and urban greenery, suggest optimism. Ultimately, though, strong dialogue and a strong cast (with a memorably surreal performance from Imelda Staunton) reflect a strikingly more bleak view.
28 January 2022