Review by Sean Boelman
The feature debut of Natalie Erika James, Relic shows that the filmmaker has tremendous potential to be an exciting new voice in the genre. Unfortunately, despite great performances and some truly terrifying imagery, the movie fails to have the impact that it likely should because its central metaphor is too direct.
The film follows a woman and her daughter as they return to their family home in search of the family’s missing matriarch, only for her to reappear, seemingly controlled by a mysterious and malicious force. And although this is an interesting idea with the promise of being a fresh take on the haunted house subgenre of horror, James rarely takes the premise beyond the surface level.
It’s clear from the beginning that the movie is serving as a metaphor for aging, specifically in reference to losing control of oneself with dementia. This is a common (and horrifying) fear held by many, so the film should theoretically work very well, but instead of eliciting this sense of existential dread, it goes for the arguably less effective supernatural scares.
Slow burn horror can be extremely effective if it constantly mounts tension, but the increase in intensity here is too sudden in the third act. As a result, a majority of the movie feels unexciting only for the finale to dial it up to eleven in a way that is entirely frustrating and off-putting. Those looking for constant scares will be mostly bored here.
The character development in the film is also somewhat inconsistent. There is an interesting idea introduced about the three generations of women that make up the characters, but this aspect of the story is left largely unanswered in favor of the more expected commentary on growing old.
That said, the actors all do an excellent job in the film. Emily Mortimer serves as the emotional grounding of the movie, the subtlety of her performance going a long way in allowing the audience to connect with the characters. Her chemistry with Bella Heathcote, who plays her daughter, is also excellent. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Robyn Nevin gives an exaggerated performance as the (possibly) evil grandma, and it’s quite fun to watch.
The movie is also very good in terms of its visual execution. James evidently has a clear understanding of how to use the medium of film to disturb in a visual sense, if only she can find a greater sense of pacing. The special effects and production design are the true MVPs in this, offering the most effective shocks in the movie.
Relic is a solid horror flick, but it takes too long to get moving and the script is a bit too obvious for its own good. Still, there are enough chills here to make this worth a watch and provide reason for excitement for Natalie Erika James’s next work.
Relic hits theaters and VOD on July 10.