“The joy of working in a supernatural space is that you can do what you like”: Romola Garai on directing feminist horror Amulet
Romola Garai has long been a familiar face on screen and stage, with her extensive acting credits ranging from Joe Wright’s Atonement to Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, BBC series The Crimson and the White to theatre production The Writer at the Almeida. Her first foray into writing and directing came in the form of 2012 short film Scrubber, which was nominated for Best Short at Sundance.
Now, she’s finally achieved what had long been just out of reach: the release of her first feature-length film, Amulet. It follows a former soldier, Tomaz (God’s Own Country’s breakout star Alec Secareanu), living in precarious circumstances in London, who is left homeless when a fire destroys the block of flats he was squatting in. When he’s offered a place to stay by a kindly nun, Sister Clare (the legendary Imelda Staunton as you’ve never seen her before), in a dilapidated house in exchange for helping with upkeep, he’s in no position to refuse.
He finds himself curious to get to know his fellow tenant: the alluring yet hard-to-read Magda (Carla Juri of Blade Runner 2049), who must care for her sick mother (Anah Ruddin). As time drags on, however, not all is as it seems and something insidious appears to be lurking in the decaying home. Meanwhile, Tomaz’s own past manning a border post in an unspecified conflict zone steadily haunts him and threatens to upset his present.
This slow-burn, feminist horror, is a bold and imaginative debut, using an exacting visual language and visceral, retro-leaning style, with an undercurrent of dark humour, to both invoke and subvert the genre’s tropes, such as the iconic motif of the haunted house. In addition, the film’s subtext explores gender roles, ideals of male “heroes” and victimisation, morality and religion and cycles of abuse. In some respects, Amulet plays out as a form of metaphorical cathartic justice for the persecution of women that so often goes unpunished in real life. It’s yet another example in the recent trend of female creatives breaking exciting new ground in the psychological horror space, from Prano Bailey-Bond with Censor to Rose Glass with Saint Maud.
The Upcoming has the pleasure of speaking to Garai, who shared the long road to writing and getting her first feature made, how she put her cast together and the appeal of horror, noir and the macabre, in particular for female filmmakers. She said: “I think the pleasure of the genre space is that you’re allowed to have some kind of psychic or karmic reckoning with the things that you feel angry about, which drama doesn’t afford you.” Watch the rest of the interview below.
Amulet is released in select cinemas on 28th January 2022.
Watch the trailer for Amulet here: