For her first directorial effort Atonement star Romola Garai has concocted a savagely karmic fever dream of a horror movie. It’s set partly in the backwoods of a central European warzone, where Alec Secareau’s (God’s Own Country) lonely soldier, Tomaz, is stationed, and partly in the decaying London pile where he later washes up, an immigrant given lodging with a young woman, Magda (Carla Juri), and her dying mum. Soon he’s freaking out to the screams coming from upstairs and the albino bat-type creature he’s fishing out of the loo. Toilet bat, it turns out, is the least of his problems.
Amulet takes a little while to get going – the first half an hour or so meanders when it needs to menace – but the grisly, twist-filled payoff is worth the wait. The way Magda’s ethereal, innocent charm subtly morphs into some shadier is nicely pitched by Juri, a bellwether guiding the film towards its dark denouement. And to borrow a tired cliché, the house is a character here too: a grubby, seedy one with bits coming off it and something awful in the loft.
It all makes for a debut full of promise from the actress-turned-writer-director. With the faintest debt to The Exorcist and HR Giger, and a barnstorming turn from Imelda Staunton turn as a nun with some dark secrets of her own, Garai has found an arresting way to position male sexual violence: as an age-old curse that brings with it the bitterest of consequences.
In UK cinemas Jan 28.