‘Amulet’ Joins the Long Line of Creepy Cinematic Abodes

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Amulet (CREDIT: Rob Baker Ashton/Magnet Releasing)

Starring: Carla Juri, Alec Secareanu, Imelda Staunton, Angeliki Papoulia, Anah Ruddin

Director: Romola Garai

Running Time: 99 Minutes

Rating: R for Freaky and Disturbing Images

Release Date: July 24, 2020 (Theaters and On Demand)

It’s nice when people open their houses up to someone who doesn’t have anywhere else to stay. But it’s not so nice when there’s something demonic lurking within that house. Not to mention all the structural problems that often go hand-in-hand with supernatural occupancy. Maybe the guest can summon some exorcism skills, but when the pipes are leaking and the walls are cracking, it can be tough to get in a good night’s sleep. This is the predicament that the homeless Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) finds himself in in Amulet, Romola Garai’s feature directorial debut. He’s given an offer he’s not in much of a place to refuse: to stay at the home of Magda (Carla Juri), a young woman who seems entirely cut off from the rest of the world as she cares for her dying mother.

As Amulet starts up, it strikes me as a slow-burn horror in the vein of It Comes at Night, where it’s not clear that we’ll ever fully see what’s causing all the commotion. I also detect notes of The Innkeepers, in terms of a general feeling of spookiness instead of any fully present monsters. If anything, it seems for a while that the scariest figure could be a stern nun played by Imelda Staunton. (And by Imelda Staunton standards, she’s actually fairly nice.)

But then a bat shows up in a toilet. I thought it was a pig at first. But no, it’s very much a bloodsucking mammal, and it’s in a foul mood. And that description would also accurately describe Magda’s mom and the whole house itself (not so much the mammal part for the latter). In the final act, Amulet ruthlessly turns macabre and baroque right quick. It’s a little overwhelming and presumably would have been even more so if I had seen it in a theater instead of at my home. Thie go-for-broke set design would almost certainly be more enveloping on a bigger screen, but its boldness is at least still impressive no matter what the scale. And that’s important, because that is pretty much where Amulet pulls all of its eggs in the basket when everything is said and done.

Amulet is Recommended If You Like: Vampire bats

Grade: 3 out of 5 Home Repairs

The ‘Downton Abbey’ Movie Does Right By Its Dozens of Characters

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CREDIT: Jaap Buitendijk/Focus Features

Starring: Hugh Bonneville, Max Brown, Laura Carmichael, Jim Carter, Raquel Cassidy, Brendan Coyle, Michelle Dockery, Kevin Doyle, Michael C. Fox, Joanne Froggatt, Matthew Goode, Harry Haden-Paton, David Haig, Geraldine James, Robert James-Collier, Simon Jones, Allen Leech, Phyllis Logan, Elizabeth McGovern, Sophie McShera, Tuppence Middleton, Stephen Campbell Moore, Lesley Nicol, Kate Phillips, Douglas Reith, Maggie Smith, Phillippe Spall, Imelda Staunton, Penelope Wilton

Director: Michael Engler

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Rating: PG for Some Stolen Kisses and Slightly Scandalous Secrets

Release Date: September 20, 2019

I like to be upfront about the fact that I don’t always consume media straightforwardly. Sometimes I start TV shows five seasons in. Sometimes I watch the fifth sequel in a franchise despite never having any seen any previous entries. And sometimes, as in the case of Downton Abbey, I watch a TV-to-film adaptation without ever having seen a single episode of the series. Thus, I cannot report with any expertise about how the big-screen adventures of the Crawleys and company compare to their small-screen foibles. But I can tell you how it works as a cinematic experience while coming in with (basically) no expectations.

In an era of nerd culture dominance, it seems like there is a new superhero movie every other month that expects its audience to be up-to-date on years of backstory for a multitude of characters. Downton Abbey is often the type of movie that tends to get shoved aside in this current marketplace, but it does share one important quality with your Avengers or your Justice League. And that is its magnificently sprawling cast. I’m sure that keeping track of everyone is easier for fans of the show than it is for me, but even so, properly attending to approximately three dozen characters in only two hours sounds exhausting for both a screenwriter and a viewer.

Luckily, show creator Julian Fellowes, who penned the script, knows how to keep the focus, and Michael Engler offers no-fuss direction that lets the actors do what they do. It all starts with King George V and Queen Mary (Simon Jones and Geraldine James) announcing that they will be making an overnight visit to Downton Abbey as part of a tour of the country. Chaos (or chaos-ish) ensues. Along the way, there are small pleasures all over the place that add up to a full feast of pleasures. An arrogant royal chef makes a fool of himself, conversations about how the future might bring more rights to the underclasses are discussed, and the Dowager Countess drops her devastating quips. It’s admiringly economical comfort food.

Downton Abbey is Recommended If You Like: Downton Abbey the TV show, presumably

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Royal Visits