It might only be the start of January 2021, but it’s time for our first full-on body horror freak-out of the new year, thanks to Natalie Erika James, whose debut feature should only be tackled by those steely of nerve and strong of stomach. Produced by Jake Gyllenhaal and exec-produced by The Russo Brothers, Relic has a decent provenance, but also has a USP in a crowded horror field; we’re harvesting a certain kind of discomfort that comes with getting old.
First up; be warned. This is a classy film, and not one that’s given to explanations, so if you want a nailed-down menu explaining the meaning of what you just saw; forget it. Fresh from her stint in Mary Poppins Returns, Emily Mortimer plays anxious mom Kay, who hopes that her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) will benefit from moving in with elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) and her remote country pile. But things don’t go to plan, because Edna seems to be suffering from something more than dementia…
Relic is a serious minded horror that’s content to pick up on real-world issues, but plays them out by referencing genre tropes. Edna has vanished, and then returns, and seems a little different; like the family, the viewers are left to speculate on what’s gone down, but given the state of her physically, it was something very bad indeed. James seems to be aiming for the kind of generational distrust that fuelled Hereditary, and although there’s few of the knockout punches featured in Ari Aster’s film, the sense of creeping dread eventually works the same way.
Mortimer is pretty much good in everything, while Heathcote has shown her chops for horror in stomach-churners like The Neon Demon, Fifty Shades Darker and perennial tv soap Neighbours. They all give detailed, grounded performances, which pay off when Sam finds herself lost in the musty crawl-spaces of her granny’s house, and the walls seems to be closing in…Relic is more interested in tension, atmosphere and metaphors that jump scares, although the gore is extremely discomforting when it pops up. Decay and deterioration are the main ingredients here, and if you can bear the subject, and trigger warnings must apply here, Relic works wonders to make an effective feature play out on a short-film idea.
Relic hits the UK on Digital HD from Jan 11th and Blu-ray / DVD from Jan 18th 2021
Thanks to Signature for early access to this film.