• Through the Trees

Review: Relic

Natalie Erika James's feature debut starring Emily Mortimer is an unsettling and powerful haunted house horror

Written by Katherine McLaughlin

With Relic director/writer Natalie Erika James unearths the real-life horrors of adulthood and the emotional toll of that sudden shift when a child becomes carer to a parent suffering from a debilitating disease such as dementia. It’s an unsettling and deeply moving haunted house horror filled with painful truths about the way in which we come to terms with the responsibility of caring for a sick and dying parent. By showing three generations of women going through the experience together, mother, daughter and granddaughter, the film works on multiple levels exploring the psychological impact from three differing perspectives.

Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote star as mother Edna, daughter Kay and granddaughter Sam respectively, with each one turning in affecting performances. Nevin’s shifting turn exudes strength and vulnerability, as does Mortimer’s as a mother stuck in the middle and aiming to protect her daughter from upset and make tough decisions about her own mother’s future. Heathcote as the youngest of the three trembles convincingly with naiveté at shocking revelations. All three actors nail the stubbornness and fragility of these characters as they attempt to hold on to some semblance of normality.

With the house acting as metaphor for dementia and the tormented psyches of the three women the tactile set design by Vanessa Cerne mimics their inner turmoil and corrosion. Piles of laundry sit atop boxes hidden in the crawlspace in Edna’s house and locked doors waiting to be reopened point to the memories left behind or stored away. A post-it note placed on one of the boxes reads: “I Am Loved.” – a truly gut-wrenching moment.

Expanding black mould in the house and the walls literally closing in on characters gives the sensation of being buried beneath an overwhelming burden of responsibility and sickness. The women wander the grounds of the rural property, revealing feelings of guilt, terror or confusion and as time slips away from them, they get lost in the grief and decay. The impressive and unforgettable effects rendered in the denouement of Relic act as a tender and agonising symbol of mortality with family members desperately holding onto the people they love while also fearing their eventual passing. Natalie Erika James has crafted an incredibly impressive first feature packed with striking visuals, powerful performances and a strong hold on an atmosphere of dread.

Relic is released in cinemas and on digital HD on 30th October.


Director: Natalie Erika James

Screenwriters: Natalie Erika James, Christian White

Cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote

Distributor: Signature

Rating: 15

Running Time: 89mins

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