Romola Garai’s fiercely feminine Amulet pulls no punches in its quest to lay bare the truth and lies behind toxic men.
Amulet is a layered film about stereotypes and retribution. Tomaz, Alec Secareanu of God’s Own Men, is a guilt-stricken and haunted man back from war is working as a day laborer. He is squatting at night on the outskirts of London before kindly Sister Claire offers him a solution. He will act as a protector, companion, and handyman to Magda, who is caring for her diseased elderly mother. For Tomaz, who has deep-rooted masculine ideas about gender, this is a perfect opportunity. Soon after arriving, he realizes nothing is as it seems, and some crimes can’t be forgotten.
Just like most women, Amulet needs time to percolate. If there were an award for slow-burning, Amulet would win hands down. There isn’t enough patience to fully focus on every nuanced symbol flung at the viewer some more overt than others but all gorgeously rendered in misty technicolor glory by DP Laura Bellingham. Gutted fish with their bloody innards wrenched out through a gaping slit, lush and wild nature shots, soft-focused snails, hairless bats with razor-sharp teeth, and bloody sheets are all ferociously captured without restraint.
The production design by Francesca Massariol is stunning. The decaying old house that literary bleeds and shits its owner’s filth is gorgeous in that creepy way grand old houses in classic horror can be. You can tell this neglected home was something once, and that adds another layer to the surreal quality of Amulet. Unusual angles and filters were often used to blur the lines between memory and reality, while cool and impartial pans place the viewer in the position of judge over Tomaz. Close shots of mirrors highlight Tomaz’s self-reflection or lack thereof. Amulet is a savage indictment on evil men and their belief systems.
In the final act, the sickness that has invaded the house and, to some degree, Magda is revealed. Gender roles are flipped on their heads. Tomaz isn’t protecting Magda; she is grooming him. As chilling as Magda’s transformation from hesitant and scared, Sister Alice’s reveal is even better. No one does impish malevolence like Imelda Staunton. Dolores Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was a civilized villain. She was as much cookies and milk as she was arsenic. In Amulet, she is seething barely contained rage couched in a benign facade. When the habit comes off, her condemnation is firey, and as we come to find out justified.
Magda, Carla Juri from Bladerunner 2049, is enigmatic and alluring. More critical than Tomaz’s character arch is hers. He is presented as the initial protagonist, but it is Magda who the story revolves around. She is mutable and impenetrable in every interaction with Tomaz, who fights sexual urges he hasn’t always contained. Magda plays the part Tomaz wants well. Long before the final reveal, you suspect she is more in control of the situation than she presents.
Unflinchingly condemning Amulet makes it clear in the end that women don’t need protection. Especially from men who use their size and strength as a weapon. Here are all your questions answered about that surreal ending and what it all means.
What Did Tomaz Do?
Through flashbacks, we see a younger Tomaz working as a sentry deep in an endless woods. Miriam, who he takes in, is shaken and terrified by what she has been told and likely what she has already experienced. Tomaz befriends her under the guise of protection. The truly horrible thing is he believes it. He thinks because he is kind to her initially, he earned the right to claim her. When Miriam chooses to leave, he strikes and shows who he really is. He is a monster that thinks he’s a saint.
It is never explicitly shown, but it is obvious he raped Miriam and likely raped many women before her. In one of the flashbacks, she talks about men who hurt women. He is one of those men; he just thinks he isn’t because his own fantasy requires a knight and a damsel in distress to “save.” Sister Claire, in her searing indictment of Tomaz late in the film, accuses him of having eaten very well. She talks about meals plural, indicating Miriam was not the first woman he had raped, just the one he regretted the most or the last one lodged in his psyche.
You pay for your sins one way or another.
Some things are unforgivable, especially when the perpetrator wants absolution and shows no contrition. Being sorry isn’t the same thing as taking responsibility, especially when you want forgiveness to make a better impression. Tomas even says in a moment that is more explanatory than apologetic, “Before your God, the Ancients didn’t believe you could forgive yourself. It wasn’t yours to give.” It’s an excuse rather than an admission. He wanted mercy when he showed none to Miriam and possibly others. No amount of sweet talk or haunted eyes can wipe the slate clean. Sister Claire and Magda see all.
Why Does Tomaz become a mother?
In the horrific final sequence, Tomaz kills Magda’s mother, thinking he is saving her. Only through this act does he think he can have salvation for his sins. The twist, of course, being, Mother, is a man just like Tomaz, who has been unrepentantly evil.
Tomaz became a mother forced to give birth again and again to his sins because Justice is a lady. The cosmic equalizer saw what Tomaz didn’t want to admit, and rather than grant him clemency found him guilty and extracted her pound of flesh over and over in an unpleasant way. As any mother will tell you, it’s painful, and there is something poetic about Tomaz having to continuously answer for his crime just as Miriam gave birth to her daughter. He has become the very thing he feared the most.
In Miriam’s case, her daughter seems to be a salvation. A way of moving on. Her child gives her reason to live and love. For Tomaz, it’s about pain. Magda had been caring for her “mother” before Tomaz arriving. She now has a new charge. As is typical in genre films, the elderly woman is demonized. In Amulet, the crone is gender-swapped to great effect. There is a sly sensibility almost comedic about Tomaz becoming a mother and laboring for the rest of his life.
What Did The Shell And The Amulet Mean?
When Tomaz climbs through the shell that is vascular and undulating like I can only imagine a birth canal would be, he is seeking redemption. He wishes to be washed clean of his sins. To be born again free of his crimes. What he finds instead is “every woman” in the form of a cryptic totem at the center, which offers only honesty and contempt. “Isn’t this what you wanted, Tomaz?” she asks? She questions why he doesn’t find her beautiful anymore? Is it because she doesn’t need his protection or his approval?
This figure appears earlier in the film when he digs it up. The talisman is a test. If he worships and respects women, nothing that happened later would have. Instead, he is tempted and takes what is not his. From that point on, he is doomed. Perhaps if he genuinely wanted to atone for his crimes, there would be a different outcome, but it appears the die was cast.
Shells ward off evil. They are the embodiment of feminity and as protections against corruption. It is clear who is being indicted. Magda had been pushing and poking the soft underbelly of Tomaz’s guilt for his admission, which never came. Both Magda and Tomaz have their burdens to bear; only Magda has a shell to protect her.
Who was the Nun?
Sister Claire isn’t a nun at all but a servant to all women. She is omnipotent. She knows what Tomaz has done and judges him for it. Claire is a metaphor for feminine rage. She offers redemption to those who deserve it, but for those who don’t, she provides only pain. Sister Claire balances the equation. Magda and other women like her have to live with their grief. She lived in the house with “Mother” because she was the molested daughter written about in the news clippings. The vile man was hers to care for until he died. She didn’t choose that life it was inflicted on her. She decided to keep Tomaz, allowing her to reclaim her power. That is why she is so much lighter in tone in the end. In a way, Tomaz did save Magda, just not in the way he envisioned.
Bad men who do whatever they want and beg for forgiveness later are the worst kind of man Amulet argues. Tomaz isn’t interested in making amends as he is being granted a mulligan. He wants only to be told what he did was okay and won’t have lasting effects on the women he hurt. By demanding forgiveness from Magda, it is about his feelings, not Miriams.
The deeply resonate revenge tale is as fantastical as it gets, a fairy tale of the Grim variety. This dark morality play is told in two acts; what is presented and what is reality. Unapologetically skewering Amulet doesn’t ask for your opinion; it only offers justice. Tomaz thinks he knows the part he’s playing, but in this story, he needs saving. Be careful, boys, because the old adage is true. Karma’s a bitch. Amulet is out in select theaters and VOD everywhere today.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.