Relic (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: When an elderly woman disappears, then mysteriously returns to her home a few days later, her daughter and granddaughter rightfully begin to suspect that there's something very wrong with her. But is the source of her troubles a medical condition, or something supernatural?

REVIEW: Writer/director Natalie Erika James' feature debut RELIC was inspired by the filmmaker's real life experience of losing her grandmother to Alzheimer's, and the sadness and darkness of this tragic loss permeates the finished film. This is not an easy or pleasant movie to sit through. That said, the heavy atmosphere is really the least challenging thing about RELIC. A bigger challenge is that the film moves along at an achingly slow pace that may cause some viewers to feel restless and desperate to see something substantial happen. When something does happen, the film deals largely in metaphor, so it's difficult to understand exactly what is happening. The meaning of certain moments will surely go right over many heads. After watching the movie, I had to look up interviews with the director in hopes of finding answers. Now I know what certain aspects of the film represent, but I still don't know why these things actually happen to the characters. Yes, the condition and layout of the house the film is set in begins to reflect the mental state of a lead character, but why?

RELIC centers on three generations of women; elderly Edna, her daughter Kay, and Kay's daughter Sam. When Edna goes missing for a few days, Kay and Sam go to her home and find the place empty. A search of the forest surrounding Edna's home turns up nothing – and then the woman just shows up at home, unable or unwilling to say where she's been. When Edna returns, she's different than Kay and Sam have ever seen her before; she has been increasingly forgetful in her old age, but now it seems like she may have dementia. She also has extreme mood swings, so she could be a danger to herself and others. But does Edna have a medical condition, or is there something supernatural going on in her home? And if there is a supernatural force at work, does it have something to do with the mold that's growing throughout the house? Nightmares Kay has tie this mold to the story of her great-grandfather, who lived in a cabin on the property and is said to have lost his mind.

Relic Emily Mortimer Natalie Erika James

Edna, Kay, and Sam are played by Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, and Bella Heathcote, respectively, and each of them did great work in this film. Nevin very effectively plays the two sides of the Edna character; the one who tugs at your heartstrings because she's an old woman whose mental state is declining, and the one who comes off as frightening because she seems capable of violence and may not even be Edna anymore. Kay seems a bit cold and distant at first, but Mortimer shows that the character has more depth of emotion as the story goes on. Sam is more outwardly caring from the start, and when the action kicks in toward the film's end, she's the one who carries us through the sequence that I found to be the most involving.

I am touched by the story behind RELIC, the personal experiences that inspired James to craft the screenplay for this film with Christian White. I was impressed by the performances of the cast members, and appreciated the artistry that was on display in this film; James has definitely proven that she is a capable filmmaker, and I think it's going to be interesting to watch where her career goes from here. But when RELIC was over, it was clear that this was not a movie for me. Not only was I baffled by what I had just watched and feeling the need to look up interviews, but for me the things that happened near the end were not worth the long, slow journey it took to get there. The movie feels much longer than its 89 minutes, and I didn't feel rewarded for sticking with it.

Relic Robyn Nevin Emily Mortimer Natalie Erika James

I was also put off by just how dark the film was, visually speaking. Sure, a horror movie should be dark, but this is up there with ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM as a film where the dark visuals were an impediment to the viewing experience. (Rest assured, this is the only way I would ever compare RELIC to REQUIEM.) When a character has to use a flashlight to get through a room in the middle of the day, when the lights are already on in the house, they have a serious illumination issue to deal with.

I didn't enjoy RELIC, but James got positive notices for it after the film was screened at Sundance and the movie was produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, with CAPTAIN AMERICA / AVENGERS filmmakers Anthony Russo and Joe Russo serving as executive producers, so in the big picture this movie is an incredible success story for a burgeoning filmmaker. I wanted to like it more than I did. Some modern slow burn horror has worked for me, but this one didn't.

IFC Midnight will be giving RELIC a drive-in release on July 3rd, followed by an indoor theatre and VOD/Digital release on July 10th. The film will be available to watch on the streaming service Stan in Australia.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.