RELIC originally delighted genre fans at Sundance in January 2020 as one of the standouts in the Midnight section and was tentatively scheduled to be screened at SXSW this year as part of their own Midnighters program. Written and directed by Natalie Erika James in her debut film along with co-writers James and Christian White, RELIC weaves a tale of despair in isolation which is all too befitting the current state of the Western World.
Edna (played quite effectively by Robyn Nevin) is a shut-in grandmother who has gone missing upon the convening of her multi-generational family reunion with Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote). The female-driven narrative is permeated with dread and sadness, managing a slow burn that kindles a pervasive sense of unease for the viewer. When Kay and Sam arrive to visit Edna, the eldest maternal portion of the unit is nowhere to be seen in her rural Australian home while signs of decay are all around.
The house is plastered with the Post-It notes Edna sadorned her peeling walls to remind her of forgotten things (a la MEMENTO). The eeriness of the crumbling facade informs the viewer of ways in which decay and rot can invade both one’s mind and domicile. RELIC spends much of the narrative exploring how separated the three generations of women have become as they stumble towards reconciliation whilst the younger generations investigate the bones of the house where a supernatural force may inhabit.
Robyn Nevin’s portrayal of Edna is a standout as a grandmother who is withered but still bears the strength of her previous self. Edna’s struggles with memory and basic upkeep create moments of great tension as she lashes out at her relatives when Edna’s dementia causes her to lose sense of who her relatives are. Bella Heathcote also delivers a fair turn as Sam, a struggling adult with seemingly little direction or sense of purpose doing her best with the highly opinionated maternal figures at her throat.
RELIC is a unnerving slowburn of a feature debut by Natalie Erika James tonally reminiscent of mother! and HEREDITARY but does an excellent job at creating a divergent narrative with a nearly all female cast. James excels at creating dread in a film contained in primarily one location while allowing the set-pieces to become characters in their own right.
The film was picked up by IFC Midnight and is currently available on to watch on digital/VOD services.
Tags: Australia, Bella Heathcote, Charlie Sarroff, Christian White, Denise Haratzis, Emily Mortimer, Horror, IFC Midnight, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jeremy Stanford, Natalie Erika James, Riva Marker, Robyn Nevin, Sean Lahiff