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Movie Reviews

Relic Review

  • Director: Natalie Erika James
  • Writers: Natalie Erika James and Christian White
  • Cast: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin
  • Runtime: 89 min

Kay (Emily Mortimer) goes back to her family home in search of her missing mother Edna (Robyn Nevin), accompanied by her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote). Edna’s house is in disrepair and there are signs of her dementia around the house. Edna mysteriously reappears and is unwilling to talk about where she has been. As Edna’s mind increasingly deteriorates, Kay and Sam sense there is a force in the house that might be taking control of her.

Relic is essentially a three hander between the three female leads. Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, The Newsroom) brings out her best Australian accent to play Edna’s daughter Kay. Mortimer impresses with her performance as the daughter of a woman with dementia, in the family drama moments as well as effectively showing the terror in the horror moments.

Robyn Nevin (The Matrix Reloaded, Top of the Lake) is great in the challenging role of Edna. Not only does she have to show Edna in her confused state as well as in the lucid moments, but also she is essentially a monster in the horror part of the film. It’s a lot of different personalities in an 89-minute movie but Nevin transitions between them well.

Edna’s granddaughter Sam is played by Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows, The Neon Demon). She is strong in the role of the young naïve granddaughter who initially doesn’t grasp the severity of Edna’s illness before unravelling as the situation becomes more real. The relations between the three women are believable and make you invest in what happens to them. The success of Relic relies heavily on the three actors, their relationships are definitely the strongest aspect of the film.

Robyn Nevin as Edna and Emily Mortimer as Kay

As evidenced by the trailer, Relic is being marketed as a horror film but it’s more of a blend of drama and horror. There are early eerie moments in the first half of the film to hint at what is to come before it descends into horror in the final act. If you go into the film expecting an out and out horror you may be disappointed.

Director Natalie Erika James and cinematographer Charlie Sarroff, who worked together on the short film version of this story Creswick, successfully use all of the frame. Putting details in the foreground, middle and background of the frame draws the viewer in and makes them seek out extra details. The look of the film is very dark, as is the norm with films intended to fright. However, sometimes it strays into being too dark, where it’s hard to make out the actors’ facial expressions. This allows them to capture movements in the shadows of the background but sadly loses detail in the foreground.

Lots of work has gone into making the house look like a true family home, it looks extremely lived in and slightly neglected. The house feels like it is a living thing, as does the mould that begins to take over the house as the film progresses. It is a physical manifestation of the dementia taking over Edna. The house is almost like another character in the film.

Bella Heathcote as Sam

Composer Brian Reitzell has successfully created a creepy score that builds tension throughout. The score is subtle and sinister, Reitzell avoids the overdone quiet-quiet-bang scores that create jump scares. The aim is more to create a sense of unease throughout the length of the film.

The filmmaker Natalie Erika James has experienced dementia within her family and as such Relic is sensitive to the subject matter. There is a scene towards the end of the film that made me slightly uncomfortable. Some scenes may be tougher to watch if you have personal experience with dementia but on the whole James succeeds in treating the subject with respect. Relic effectively uses prosthetics rather than rely on CGI that allows for a final scene that is emotive and touching. It is deeper than most horrors, effectively merging a family drama with horror.

Relic has been getting a lot of buzz since its premiere at Sundance early in 2020 and the film counts Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo brothers amongst its producers. Relic is well made and has a quality cast who really sell the material well. It made a more lasting impression than most horror films do. The movie creates enough of a sense of unease to call it a horror, but temper expectations and be open to a more grounded film experience and you won’t be disappointed. Relic is well worth a watch.

Relic is released in theatres and on demand July 10 2020

Images courtesy of IFC Midnight

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