Relic review: much more than a haunted house film

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From director Natalie Erika James comes Relic, a horror film that gets under the skin and has much to say – here’s our review.

Writer/director Natalie Erika James impresses with her atmospheric and melancholic feature debut Relic, which is one of the most terrifying movies you will watch this year.

When family matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing, her daughter (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter (Bella Heathcote) return to their family home on a mission to find her. However, since this is a horror movie, the missing matriarch isn’t the only mystery they uncover at the house, with a haunting presence taking over.

Relic is far from your conventional haunted house film, instead looking at the impact of dementia through a horror lens, playing on our fears of growing old, death and loss of memory. Drawing from her experiences with her grandmother who had Alzheimer’s, James analyses the topic with sensitivity, understanding the impact the disease has on the person with it, and their loved ones. It’s a poignant and arresting analysis that will likely both strike you with fear and move you as the story reaches its climax.

The film also looks at female familial dynamics, with the central trio brilliantly brought to life by the actors. Nevin’s Edna is timid and wary, often staring in terror at something invisible to the audience, which is incredibly unnerving. Mortimer perfectly captures the grief her character Kay is going through, as she is helpless when it comes to her mother’s suffering. Rounding off the trio, Heathcote is equally fantastic as granddaughter Sam, marking herself out as an upcoming actor to watch out for.

The fourth major character in Relic is the creaky house that lies in the middle of nowhere, reflecting the isolation Edna feels as she goes through her experience with the disease. Covered in growing black mould representing the decay of the matriarch’s mind, the layout of the house also constantly changes, disorientating us as it warps. The production design team deserve applause for this creation, a hugely effective place to deliver scares.

Paired with creepy sound design and terrifying images that sear themselves into your mind, watching Relic is a nerve-wrecking experience. But what makes it stand out is its affecting look at dementia, one that sticks long after the credits have rolled.


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