THE STORY – A woman links her mother’s increasingly volatile behavior to an evil presence at their family’s decaying country home.
THE CAST – Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin & Bella Heathcote
THE TEAM – Natalie Erika James (Director/Writer) & Christian White (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 89 Minutes
By Will Mavity
Although distributed by IFC Films, “Relic” is your quintessential A24 style horror film. Well-acted and well-shot, with effective production design, a strong sense of atmosphere, while not being the least bit scary.
Like “Hereditary,” “Relic” is a tense domestic drama that just happens to feature supernatural elements. Don’t go into it expecting to be scared. However, d go into it expecting strong acting and nuanced family relationships. If the phrase, “slow burn” concerns you, beware. “Relic” is undoubtedly in the “slow burn” category of horror. Confined almost entirely to a single location, it takes its sweet time building to a payoff. And the payoff is undoubtedly good, although maybe not quite as compelling as that in, say, “The Witch” for example.
What makes “Relic” click are the believable relationships between its three lead actresses. As tensions rise in the face of mental illness, they are confined to a cramped old house. The script does an effective job fleshing out familial struggles and tensions, and Emily Mortimer (“Mary Poppins Returns”), Bella Heathcote (“The Neon Demon”), and especially Robyn Nevin (“The Matrix”), all do a tremendous job developing those connections further.
The film is first and foremost about the horrors and struggles of caring for a family member struggling with dementia. And Nevin, saddled with the job of depicting a woman who shifts from grandmotherly warmth to murderous insanity and back again at the drop of the hat, delivers one of the year’s strongest supporting performances.
Despite the film’s low budget, it boasts impressive prosthetic work and an effective “haunted house” set. The sound design, courtesy of Robert Mackenzie (“Hacksaw Ridge”) slowly ratchets up the tension and ensures that the house feels like a character unto itself.
In short, “Relic” isn’t scary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t good. It is tense and well made, and the skin-peeling prosthetics work is sure to give gorehounds something to enjoy. It is a touching look at the struggles family members face caring for someone with dementia, and writer/director Natalie Erika James deserves kudos for discovering a more creative approach to the subject than the obvious methods of films like “Still Alice.” “Relic” won’t be on anyone’s lists of “greatest horror films of all time,” but it is a respectable installment in the genre, and hopefully ensures that its trio of actresses lands larger roles in the future.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Excellent performances. Effective production design, prosthetics, and sound on a low budget. A creative approach to examining dementia.