Relic (2020)

As she returns to her childhood home to care for her mother with her daughter there to help, a woman is faced with a haunting presence in the house that will force all three of them to look at their lives and themselves.

Written by Natalie Erika James and Christian White and directed by the former, Relic is a slow burn done right with just the right amount of dread and little things that eventually add up to create a world where things may not be as they seem. Given the strength of her short film Creswick, Relic is a long awaited feature from this writer and director that does not disappoint. While it may not be as outright scary as Creswick which had some amazingly disturbing images, Relic takes some of the same themes and ideas and expends them successfully into a feature film, something a lot of short film directors never manage to achieve. Here she takes her short and makes changes that create a feature film that stands on its own with strong use of visual and themes that will hit home for many. Her approach to dementia, one of the central themes of both the short and the feature, is tactful and done with respect for those who have been affected by it. Here she shows the emotions and fears mental decline can bring onto a person and their loved ones. The film here is written beautifully and directed just right.

The cast is mainly composed of the three ladies in the family with Emily Mortimer headlining and Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin as her daughter and mother respectively. The three ladies give amazing performances, showing the relationships between the women and how life can put a strain on these. The way they each portray their character is just perfect with Nevin giving what is probably the best performance seen in horror this year so far. Her work here is something that grabs the viewer and shows just the right amount of vulnerability while also showing strength and how dementia can affect a normally independent woman. Her work here should be enough to make anyone want to see this film, she is downright amazing. Mortimer is also a strong player here as she normally is, giving her character the right balance between worry and care, the perfect balance between letting people in and closing off when the story requires it. Heathcote holds her own really well next to these two powerhouse performances, giving her own strong performance and showing that strength and care got from generation to generation in this film. The other members of the cast are also very good, but the three leading ladies do amazing work here.

Working with these performances to bring the film home and connect with the audience is the look of the film. The cinematography by Charlie Sarroff takes its time and gives the viewer great images that are done carefully with an attention to details and to what the story needs. Here the framing is careful and deliberate, showing just enough and never too much of a scene until it’s needed to show more. There is a subtly about the images here lets the story and characters come through and gives the film just that much more powerful of an impact. Working with these images is the music by Brian Reitzell which gives the film that extra layer of emotions and helps build a bit of dread throughout which eventually comes to a head. The music is never over stated and doesn’t overtake the film; it’s a supporting character and one that does its job perfectly.

Relic is a strong first feature film by a talented director. Here Natalie Erika James shows that her talent is not limited to short films, but also extends to telling longer form stories with nuance and an even hand in directing. Her work here shows talent and that she is one to keep an eye on in the future. The cast is perfectly selected for the film and gives their respective characters humanity and just the right nuances throughout the film. The film also looks great and sound perfect. It’s a slow burn done right with plenty of emotional connection and payoff. It’s one of those films that is a must see this summer for those looking for something else than pure action and explosions.