Film Review: Amulet

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Romola Garai is my spirit animal when it comes to writing because the wild, vindictive story she weaves in Amulet is one that I could’ve easily penned myself. Maybe it’s because I write feminist horror, but I found myself knowing exactly what direction the film was going in and to figure out exactly what dark secrets the protagonist Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) was withholding the whole time.

Amulet is Garai’s directorial debut, but audiences have seen her onscreen many times mostly in period dramas like Atonement, The Crimson Petal and the White, Emma, or on TV with the short-lived The Hour, although American audiences know her mostly for having been wooed by Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Having been a fan of Garai as an actress I’ve seen her demonstrate a lot of range and in a perfect world, she would be embodying June in The Handmaid’s Tale because I think she would be perfect. But I digress.

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The film begins with Tomaz, a philosophy reading soldier guarding an outpost in the middle of the woods. At some point, he uncovers a strange looking amulet, that horror aficionados can easily envision it being a harbinger of bad omen. And ultimately, the amulet in question does bring bad luck, especially for Tomaz.

Flash forward to the present and now Tomaz is homeless living somewhere on the streets of London. A nun (Imelda Staunton) discovers him and soon gives him a new place of employment in exchange for food and a room free of charge. The gesture could almost seem lifesaving if the home Tomaz is asked to live in weren’t a decrepit looking slaughterhouse ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or if we didn’t find out that Sister Claire pressed the issue for him to remain at the home to help a young woman, Madga (Carla Juri) and her ailing mother, by withholding the wad of money he had been religiously saving up from odd jobs.

From the very get-go, we know this arrangement is bad. And I’m particularly suspicious of the food that’s served, maybe because the young woman who prepares it never seems to take a bite herself of the huge chunks of meat.

The film is a slow burn horror ala Hereditary with its own interesting mythology surrounding it. But there’s enough creep factor to keep the viewer feeling rightly unsettled. Kudos to Garai for using albino bats in the most terrifying manner possible. The setting and style evoke feelings of dread and you can’t help but draw parallels with the Grimm Fairytale, Red Riding Hood, because we’ve always been taught from a very young age that the woods are never safe for girls of all ages.

This film isn’t for the faint of heart and will surely leave a lot of men feeling very uncomfortable. And for that alone, I applaud it.

Amulet dares to press the issue that “moving on” simply isn’t possible depending on the severity of the crime. And for that reason, the wrongdoer has to pay for their sins in the most horrific ways. If there’s one thing that I walked away from this viewing is that Garai doesn’t want us to forgive and forget. Rather she wishes for us to remember, and enact sweet, sweet revenge.

Amulet can be found to rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Google. Check out the trailer here.

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Film Review: The Hunt

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The Hunt was touted as being one of the “most controversial movies of all time.” So much so, that they halted the release of it, and even the President tweeted about it stating that it “was made in order to inflame and cause chaos.” Truth is, this movie isn’t smart enough to cause chaos or inflame anyone.

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The movie has a lazy script at best. While The Purge franchise (especially the first movie) was a smart social commentary about the rich and poor, this movie merely seems to make fun of both the “elites” and the “deplorables.”

A movie that’s supposed to poke at both sides of the political divide doesn’t really garner any discomfort, questioning, or basically any immediate reaction or gut emotion. The reason for this is because every character in the movie is a caricature of what we think a liberal or conservative is. These characters never become real people to us within the realm of the movie, and thus we can’t take them seriously nor care about their survival. When you’ve got “elite” characters screaming, “Climate change is real!” to a “deplorable,” before trying to off them, you can’t help but think that they’re both loonies.

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The controversy and hype over this movie was way more than what the movie ever merited, to be honest. You’ll leave the theatre feeling like you’re not on either side because none of those characters will resonate with real people. And none of us will care what happens to any of them. The world would be better off with all those horrible caricatures gone, and Blum House should focus on making smarter films with some real horror. There’s never a moment in the movie where you feel the ever-growing sense of dread, and even in a splatter torture film, you wish to be terrified or at least feel some kind of tension or suspense. But there’s none of that. There’s nothing. The Hut was all smoke and no roast. You’re better off watching The Purge.

The Hunt

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Throwback Thursday: The Virgin Suicides

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I have a confession to make. As a teenager, I was utterly fascinated by films or literature that explored the themes of suicide. In fact, it was so much my focus that even my poetry reflected that. Now, perhaps at the time, I was guilty of glamorizing a horrific act, in part because at the time I saw it as a solution to my teenage depression and a manifestation of trying to get people to understand how serious my inner turmoil was (and not be blown off as simple teenage angst). This is why books and films like The Virgin Suicides hit home, especially when the youngest sibling, Cecilia tells the doctor after a suicide attempt gone wrong, “Obviously, Doctor, you’ve never been a 13-year old girl.” And that statement was the crux of both the film and novel.

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We, the audience, never know what it means to be a 13-year old girl, especially since the narrator of the story is an older male reflecting back on his youth and his fascination with the five beautiful sisters. The film was Sofia Coppola’s directorial debut, and she did a stunning job at demonstrating the male gaze (cause after all the book is written by a male who’s trying to understand teenage girls). When we all know that the only way to truly understand a teenage girl is to have been a teenage girl yourself.

The film depicts how the neighborhood boys elevated the sisters (especially Lux played by the superb Kirsten Dunst) to an almost saintly level. They can’t understand why Cecilia wished to die, nor do they understand why sisters followed suit soon after in the most horrific ways.

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The Lisbon sisters are never allowed to simply be girls, which means that they, like other girls that have come before and after them, have always struggled with this dilemma where girls aren’t allowed to be real people. That they must fit into someone else’s idea of what they should be (their parents, society, etc.). and that ultimately, it’s that wanting to break free from that saintly ethereal mask that is pinned so aggressively upon them that breaks them in a way that no one will ever comprehend. When Lux tries to break out of her good-girl box and has sex with the school heartthrob Trip (Josh Harnett), the consequences are exceptionally dire, and ones that many teenage girls can relate to.

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What spurs the demise of the Lisbon sister isn’t their sadness, but rather they choose death because they see it as the only vehicle to freedom. They couldn’t be free to be themselves, they had to live up to the expectations that were thrust upon them, and in an act of rebellion, they eliminated themselves as a way to not conform. And sadly, that is something that many teenage girls relate to, and why teenage me only saw death as a means to escape as well.

Men that watch the film will never understand the motives for the girls’ suicides, as the boys in the movie never do. But the girls in the audience know why. Because obviously, the men in the audience have never been a 13-year old girl. But us girls have been and although we can’t condone the act, we do understand why.

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