Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Natalia Erika James
Writer: Natalia Erika James and Christian White
Stars: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin
By Mique Watson
“Relic” argues that the winter of one’s life isn’t just sad and lonely; it’s absolutely fucking terrifying. Not just for the person in question, of course, but for everyone around them. Watching one’s parent age is both an honor, and a great source of stress; a reminder of how lucky you are to continue seeing them, and just how finite life ultimately is. In this directorial debut, Natalia Erika James presents a horror film which centers around this particular sentiment. I just wish she’d dedicated a bit more time to sustaining the pace and, ultimately, the scares.
One day Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing. Her daughter, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) are summoned to her estate to hopefully determine her whereabouts. The house has apparently been left in a curious state; its wallpapers and furniture are colored with various shades of neglect. A fruit bowl with its contents rotting, ominous swaths of mold climbing the walls, and post-it notes on various surfaces (on a lamp, it says “turn on”; another reads “switch off lights”) leaves the two in a state of bewilderment.
“When “Relic” begins to really hit the ground running is in its third act. Here is when James’ message ultimately comes to the fore.”
Things begin to get particularly strange when Edna, as if out of nowhere, materializes in the kitchen one morning. She behaves as if nothing has happened; when Kay asks her for an explanation, all Edna is able to muster up is one question: “tea?”. We learn that Kay probably hasn’t had the best luck when it comes to romance, and that Sam has recently left her job and has no plans of attending university. Both women have lots on their plate–Kay considers putting Edna in a home. Kay argues that this is “practical”… one must wonder how she, a mother, would feel if her daughter gave her this same treatment.
With the mood James sets up, it may be easy for audiences to dismiss this as an Australian “Hereditary” knockoff; unfortunately, “Relic” pales in comparison in the scares and pacing department. The first and second act sort of bleed into one another at a slug-like pace. This film may easily be dismissed as the latest attempt in “elevated horror” that critics will fawn over, and general audiences will perhaps reject. And frankly, I wouldn’t blame them: brilliant and layered as the performances are, visually arresting as it is–the experience is ultimately stultifying.
“It may be easy for audiences to dismiss this as an Australian “Hereditary” knockoff; unfortunately, “Relic” pales in comparison in the scares and pacing department.”
When “Relic” begins to really hit the ground running is in its third act. Here is when James’ message ultimately comes to the fore. Here is when James brings the rotting house to life and turns it into a character; a character whose decay mirrors that of its host and owner. What once was bleached with hues of white and gray, is now shades of menacing black and green.
The horror of Edna’s situation, which was permeating in the background, eventually reveals itself to Kay and Sam–they find themselves trapped. Abandonment, James argues, begets more abandonment–with that comes both fear and resentment. The antidote to this can be found in how the film ends. Although I think it’s quite clear what James is suggesting with the final shot, I’m sure it will plant the seed for many insightful conversations. The struggle lies in getting there; the journey, as with most offerings in the realm of “elevated horror”, is a slog.
AVAILABLE EVERYWHERE JULY 10 (SELECT THEATERS, DRIVE-INS & DIGITAL/VOD)