“Relic” Mixes Horror With Some Genuine Emotional Anguish


Elevated horror is all the rage these days. The genre goes through phases, to put it mildly. There’s always a new flavor for what audiences want to be scared by, whether it was slasher films, torture porn, J horror, or whatnot. Currently, the renaissance is in classy independent fright flicks. Some are absolutely tremendous and downright award worth. Others, while solid indie offerings, don’t quite live up to the hype. The latest effort on the scene, riding high on phenomenal reviews back in January at the Sundance Film Festival, is Relic. Does this one live up to the hype? Well, not quite, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t still very effective. Heading to On Demand services this week, it’s horror that undoubtedly also has something to say.

The movie is a horror effort, of course, though less overtly concerned with scares than you might initially expect. In some ways, it’s a haunted house film, though that doesn’t do it justice, either. When her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) vanishes suddenly, without a trace, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) come to her aid. Heading to her old country home, which is in a sad state of decay, both women find various signs of dementia in the house. Kay and Sam have a tense relationship, mirroring the one the former has with her own mom. When Edna turns up, returning just as oddly as she had disappeared, with only a black bruise of sorts on her chest, things might get back to normal. However, despite Sam and Edna being close, there’s a distance between Edna and Kay. For a bit, Kay is mostly concerned about her mother’s health, while Sam is just happy to see her grandmother. Then, Edna starts acting stranger and stranger, with some volatile behavior that defies reason, the thoughts move from her dealing with dementia to the possibility that something supernatural is going on. Especially when Sam finds a labyrinth within the house, it does seem like a haunting or possession of some sort is taking place. Natalie Erika James directs a screenplay that she co-wrote with Christian White. The small cast also includes Chris Bunton and Jeremy Stanford, to name two, while
Charlie Sarroff handles the cinematography. Composing the score is Brian Reitzell. Count Jake Gyllenhaal among the producers here, as well.

Up until the very end, I was actually a bit on the fence about this one. Then, the full power and range of its emotions take hold. Frankly, the sinister presence element and the potential for a haunting/possession is less interesting than the family element. Individually, neither part fully captures you, but the marriage of the two really does work. I won’t spoil anything, but it does take up until the final shots for it totally come together. Up until then, you’re reliant on the three main performances to keep you going, and while they’re each pretty good, there could be a bit more character building. But, with such a tight running time, that does end up not coming through as it might otherwise have.

Relic doesn’t have a great sense of pacing, but filmmaker Natalie Erika James undoubtedly has talent and a unique vision. James, whether she sticks with horror or tackles other genres, has an eye that demands attention. This is just a slightly uneven yet clearly personal project. When you finally see what she’s fully been building to, it hits you like a ton of bricks. A more consistent approach would have been appreciated, but she certainly has got the goods.

This weekend, horror fans have another quality indie effort to latch on to when Relic opens. If you enjoy indie fright flicks that want to stimulate your brain as much as make you shiver, this is one to give a shot too. As long as you don’t go in expecting pure terror, you may be in for a small scale genre treat…


Be sure to check out Relic, in select theaters now and on VOD come Friday!

(Photos courtesy of IFC Films)

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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