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“Relic” Film Review: Summer 2020’s Scariest New Movie

“Relic” is an Australian horror film that was written by Christian White with director Natalie Erika James. It’s James’s debut feature film, as all of her previous writing and directing work was for shorts. The film follows three generations of women in a terrifying situation: When Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing, her adult daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and teenage granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) come to her home to look for her. But the dread keeps building, even after Edna reappears mysteriously. Watch the trailer below:

This film, in fact, is full of both dread and mystery. Not only did I have nightmares after watching it (which rarely happens) but I also felt that same apprehension rewatching the trailer. Obviously this won’t be the case for everyone, but this movie really fulfilled the promise of a horror movie for me.

One thing that I kept thinking while watching “Relic” was that it reminded me of the original “Halloween.” This one isn’t a slasher, but one of the ways the filmmakers build tension in this movie is through shadowy figures in the background. Most fans of horror trivia will know that in John Carpenter’s 1978 film, the killer wasn’t given the name “Michael Myers” in the script; instead, he was called “The Shape.” Then, not only is this mysterious being not fully human but it also causes the audience to constantly be on the lookout for The Shape, who could be lurking in the background in any scene.

There are other comparisons that feel inevitable here too. The film deals with dementia both literally and in metaphor. Some of the happenings will remind viewers of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Visit,” and I suppose you could create a subgenre of “Elderly People Being Creepy.” Another movie that could come to mind as you watch this is “Hereditary”; family strife and the fear of going through what your parents are going through are major themes in “Relic.”

RELIC
Photo credit: IFC FIlms

That being said, there’s something interesting about a movie that’s written and directed by a woman and starring all women. Even in blatantly feminist films like “Black Christmas,” men play a role as either friend or villain. They all feel a little more real and lived-in than female characters often do. All the women in this family really have is each other, though that’s also what drives them crazy. If you’ve been quarantined with family members this year, you might understand some of the trials they go through.

Of course the dementia plays a role in Kay getting fed up with Edna, and with Sam getting fed up with both her mother and grandmother at times. It’s a debilitating disease that far too many people experience, and while it’s incredibly sad for everyone involved, it’s also fair to show the frustration that comes along with that. James — and “Relic” as a whole — doesn’t shy away from the darkness and pain.

RELIC
Phot credit: IFC Films

It should be clear at this point that the movie is well-made: The story is riveting and the camera work plays a huge part in how effective the horror is. But enough can’t be said about the talent in front of the camera either. I’ve long been a fan of Emily Mortimer, having mostly seen her on television, but acing both her dramatic and comedic roles. She emotes so well in “Relic,” showcasing the fear, worry and determination that she feels for her mother and for her daughter. Heathcote and Nevin are both newer to me, but each woman plays her part fantastically. The former, specifically, plays a teenager who doesn’t quite know who she is yet without the stereotypes that typically come with that role. I’m excited to see what Heathcote’s future in film looks like.

The production design and art direction also lend this movie its tense backdrop. So many movies feature a cabin in the woods, but I’ve yet to see one as frightening as the one here. I also never knew a closet or a hallway could be quite so scary, but between the performances and the setting itself, I believe it.

“Relic” will be hitting drive-in theaters July 3 and on VOD on Friday, July 10. Don’t sleep on this one!

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Featured image credit: IFC Films

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