Natalie Erika James leaves her mark on the London Film Festival with the familial horror film Relic.
After receiving word that her elderly mother has gone missing, Kay and her daughter Sam return to their family home in the hope of uncovering clues to Edna’s disappearance. But as Kay searches the dilapidated house she left many years before, her mother mysteriously reappears, seemingly unable – or perhaps unwilling – to offer an explanation as to where she has been.
The horror genre can be an incredibly effective genre for dealing with struggles within the family unit. Particularly when it comes to grief and mental illness. Examples include The Shining, Hereditary and fellow Aussie film The Babadook.
James uses the genre as a construct to examine the effect that dementia can have. Not only on the person afflicted but also the rest of the family. Often when people see a family member with dementia, they don’t recognise the person before them anymore or perhaps even say “that’s not my mother”.
Is there something more insidious happening in the house? Has Edna been taken over by a malevolent spirit? Or is the real fear Edna and Sam must confront simply the fear of losing the woman they love?
All three lead actresses excel, with kudos to Emily Mortimer for nailing the Australian accent. However the real star of the show is Robyn Niven who delivers a heart-wrenching yet terrifying performance. Effortlessly switch between moods on a dime.
This is a horror that is refreshingly unreliant on jump scares. Eschewing them in favour of building mood and atmosphere. Enhanced by terrific set design within the family home that becomes increasingly unfamiliar and sound mixing that echoes the auditory experience of those with dementia.
This sense of creeping dread and paranoia builds to a deafening crescendo in the final act as the three woman are confronted with the truth.
The ending is likely to split audiences but Relic, and its final shot, will linger long in the mind afterwards.
Director: Natalie Erika James
Stars: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Niven, Bella Heathcote
Runtime: 89 minutes