Robyn Nevin as “Edna” and Emily Mortimer as “Kay” in Natalie Erika James’ RELIC. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight Release.

[REVIEW] ‘RELIC’ TRAPS VIEWERS IN A DARK MAZE OF A FAMILY’S DEEPEST FEARS

Natalie Erica James’ first feature film is a slow-burn, emotional drama about the horrors of ageing parents and hidden family histories.

RELIC (2020)

Starring: Bella Heathcote, Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin
Writers: Natalie Erika James, Christian White
Director: Natalie Erika James

“I am loved” – Edna’s note

 A JOURNEY INTO THE DARK

Australian writer/director Natalie Erika James’ first feature film, Relic (2020)  about the toll of aging on a family, traps viewers in the terrifying, dark maze. Her inspiration began when she was in Japan. She saw a sign outside a temple promising “the key to paradise” could be found inside.  Following the signs led her to a basement labyrinth where she quickly got lost in the dark. After groping her way to freedom, James noted that the experience had changed her being, “Everything seemed brighter, sharper. I felt buoyed by my small, private achievement for the rest of the day.” (MovieMaker Magazine) 

James uses this experience in her domestic drama/horror film to take viewers on an equally dark but much more terrifying journey. James and co-writer Christian White’s expedition into the rotting spaces between the walls of a family mansion are rooted in the real-life distress that comes from watching a close family member’s mental and physical decline. At its heart, Relic relates a heartbreaking experience that many people, myself included, have gone through. 

DIFFICULT LIFE TRANSITIONS

Relic premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was slated to be part of this year’s canceled SXSW festival. The movie is a multi-generational story that may begin in drama but very definitely ends in horror. Three generations of women confront the increasing dementia of Edna  (Robyn Nevin) and the family’s intent on returning, unsettled past. Edna, her daughter Sam (Emily Mortimer), and granddaughter, Kay ( Bella Heathcote), come together at the family estate after Edna mysteriously disappears and just as mysteriously returns.

Even though she insists she is fine,  Edna shows signs of increasing forgetfulness and bizarre behavior.  The house is decorated with Post-it notes to remind her to take her medicine, lock the doors, etc. decorate the house. One note ominously reads, “Do not follow it.”  She is increasingly delusional, telling Sam that an unknown, malignant being has gotten into the house to rob her of her memories. As Edna’s mental status deteriorates, she is taken over by the malignant being and attacks Sam and Kay, and they flee, only find themselves trapped with the walls of the house. 

Bella Heathcote as “Sam” in Natalie Erika James’ RELIC. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight Release.

GUILT, GRIEF, AND TERROR 

Relic uses many devices to tell its heart-wrenching story of guilt, grief, and terror. At the forefront, however, are the high quality of performances of the three actors (Nevin, Mortimer, and Heathcote). Buoyed by a densely written script, their subtle and powerful performances draw the viewers into their unseen dark labyrinths as they communicate their character’s vast backstories and the unspoken elements of the twisted and knotty emotions of a family in turmoil with the simplest of gestures and expressions.

The house where all of this drama happens is a major, silent character. Once a place of light, love, and celebration, it has become transformed into a dark and foreboding edifice with too many hiding places, where buried secrets grow and fester into rot.

James traps the viewers into her character’s disorientation by using out of sync video and audio to telescope time and creates a confusing experience for the audience. All of these subtle details make Relic a disorienting and devastating experience for the viewers.   

Robyn Nevin as “Edna” and Emily Mortimer as “Kay” in Natalie Erika James’ RELIC. Courtesy of IFC Midnight. An IFC Midnight Release.

Relic is an excellent entry for the young director and shows great promise in the genre. Viewers will find themselves trapped in a dark maze, frantically searching for a way back to the light. Relic will be available for video on demand and general release on July 20th by IFC Midnight. Definitely check it out!

Watch the trailer HERE!

Relic (2020)

8.8

ATMOSPHERIC

8.0/10

WELL-DRAWN CHARACTERS

9.0/10

IRL TERRORS

10.0/10

BAT-SHIT CRAZY ENDING

7.0/10

RECOMMENDED

10.0/10

Pros

  • GREAT PERFORMANCES
  • HIGH QUALITY FILM-MAKING-MECHANICS
  • TRULY TERRIFYING
  • DELIVERS A REAL EMOTIONAL GUT PUNCH

Cons

  • WOULD HAVE LIKED TO KNOW MORE ABOUT THE FAMILY'S HISTORY