When Edna (Robyn Nevin), the elderly and widowed matriarch of the family, goes missing, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) travel to their remote family home to find her. Soon after her return, they start to discover a sinister presence haunting the house and taking control of Edna.
If there is one thing that can definitely be said regarding Relic, it is that first-time feature director Natalie Erika James knows how to craft tension that feels authentic and grounded, and she ensures that the feeling is never lost. Here, she manages to craft a film that attempts to say quite a bit of things and it does so relatively well, but what’s most impressively displayed with this film is its slow-burning pace and its quiet scenes that oftentimes leave you feeling deeply uncomfortable and a little bit nervous.
Many are going to watch this movie and call it extremely boring and will say that nothing really happened in it. I can definitely understand that point of view, but I respectfully disagree. This is a creepy and unique way of telling the story of a broken family and the lengths that one may go in order to hold on to somebody within that family. As I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t always handle its themes in the most careful ways. It does, unfortunately, feel a bit messy at times and there are some moments where the overall story gets lost along the way, but there are plenty aspects to the film that were greatly enjoyable and left an impact on me.
One of the strongest being the performances all across the board. Perhaps the greatest of the bunch is none other than Robyn Nevin, who portrays the eerily mysterious Edna. Every single time she is on screen, she radiates a sense of uneasiness that was never lost. She felt remarkably cold and quiet in all the best ways. There was even one scene in particular where all she is doing is having a conversation with Kay, but her way of speaking mixed with the uncertain dread lying behind her eyes gave me goosebumps.
Speaking of Kay, Emily Mortimer also does a terrific job here, as does Bella Heathcote. All three of these actresses feel in complete control of the film. Never once did it feel like they were actors portraying characters. It truly felt as though I were watching a family going through the worst time of their lives.
Something else that was excellent in Relic was the atmosphere. The entire movie is littered with tons of dark colors and hues that give off a strong unwelcoming vibe but in a good way. Right from the opening scene alone, I got the sense that this world was a tragic and scary one that has a lot of intrigue within it. These colors and the dark lighting, mixed with the impressive cinematography by Charlie Sarroff make this film a treat for the eyes.
If there is one big problem I have with Relic, it is most certainly the ending. It’s the type of ending that you can tell was created to make viewers go “What in the world just happened? That was so weird”. But, really, it will make viewers go “That was kind of dumb”. It feels incredibly pretentious and makes the rest of the film beforehand feel somewhat inconsequential. Even still, the film’s cold tone mixed with the mysterious story make it a horror journey worth going on, despite its flaws.
Relic‘s mysterious and eerie story accompanied by the excellent performances across the board make it a delightful horror film, messy as it may be.
Overall Grade: B+
MPAA Rating: R for some horror violence/disturbing images, and language
Directed by: Natalie Erika James
Distributed by: IFC Midnight, Stan
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Running Time: 89 minutes