Horror movies like “Amulet” (2020, Magnet, 99 mins.) – which opened at Cinemapolis’ virtual screens and on demand July 24 – are really tricky to write about. This is not one of those slasher movies that kill one character per reel. It’s more seductive and atmospheric and takes its time laying its cards on the table, and is all the more engaging and addictive for that. I’ll try to tread lightly on the topic of plot.
Alec Secareanu stars as a homeless veteran squatting in a London flat and working construction under the counter for cash. He is haunted by dreams of his military past as a border guard who had an encounter with a runaway refugee. When his building burns down, the man is taken into a decrepit, rotting house by a nun (Imelda Staunton), where a strange woman (Carla Juri) lives, tending to her sickly mother.
“Amulet” marks the auspicious writing and directing debut of actor Ramola Garai, a worthy addition to a growing subgenre of what could be termed feminist horror films. I really like the low-key moody dreaminess that Garai uses to suck us in and establish the feel of the film. Perhaps inspired by Roger Corman’s series of Edgar Allan Poe films, there’s a lot of investigating strange hallways and corridors, as well as a queasy sense of squalor and weirdness that really lets us know that things are not what they seem, and are destined to get worse.
More than that I cannot say. Here’s hoping that “Amulet” is your cup of arsenic.
“The Old Guard” (2020, Netflix-Skydance-Denver and Delilah, 125 mins.), directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood from a script by Greg Rucka based on his graphic novel, happens to be the first big-budget comic book movie helmed by a black woman. But this particular comic book movie has a refreshing scarcity of camp, capes and cowls. It plays more like a bunch of Wolverines starring in something like “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Charlize Theron stars as the leader of an ancient squad of immortal warriors who have been saving the world from all manner of evil for centuries, more man-made disasters like war than invading aliens. A former CIA operative played by Chiwetel Ejiofor hires Theron’s crew to rescue a group of kidnapped children in South Sudan, but they get ambushed and realize that they’ve been set up. Meanwhile, a young U.S. Marine (Kiki Layne) survives a knife attack and realizes that she, too, is eternal.
Aside from the everlasting, undying nature of Theron and her gang of enduring mercenaries – expelling bullets like wads of chewing gum - “The Old Guard” plays as very grounded and realistic. There’s a lot of diversity and representation in the cast and its tone; two male members of the cadre are unabashedly romantically linked.
I liked the notion that these creatures can connect with each other through their dreams, and I liked it even more that for Theron, the thrill of immortality is truly gone, a notion that’s usually reserved for vampire pictures like “Interview With the Vampire.” Despite Theron’s weariness and existential angst, “The Old Guard” is good, pulpy, gritty fun.
Recommended: “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for The Rest of Your Life” and “David Foster Off the Record” on Netflix.