2020 has been one of the scariest years in recent memory. With a global pandemic and political unrest, the last thing that most people want to see is a scary movie. “Relic,” however, is not your typical horror movie.
Written and directed by newcomer Natalie Erika James, “Relic” follows a woman named Kay (Emily Mortimer) who is looking for her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) after she is found missing from her home. Kay’s daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) helps in the search for her grandmother and in the process discovers something cryptic.
Unlike most horror movies, “Relic” is a slow-paced film that puts an emphasis on character development over fear factor. While I appreciate that James wants to flesh out the characters, the balance between plot setup and actual horror is not well measured.
In a film like “The Nightingale,” for example, Director Jennifer Kent is able to set up the plot within the first ten minutes of the film, and from there she was able to build scary scenes based on the plot. With “Relic,” however, the slow plot setup minimizes the potential horror.
With that being said, “Relic” is still a worthwhile watch. The chemistry between Mortimer and Heathcote is fantastic. Having a mother-daughter relationship that is strained yet untied by searching for a family member is heartwarming to watch. Nevin’s performance as a jaded old woman with memory loss is both hard to watch and captivating. Her transformation toward the end of the film sent shivers down my spine and will have you in awe.
The low budget atmosphere of “Relic” reminds me of Sam Rami’s 1987 film “Evil Dead II.” Unlike Rami’s film however, the props and production effects are used to enhance the film’s environment instead of creating cartoonish scares. But just like “Evil Dead II,” James is able to build relatable characters and have them interact in an unusual environment.
Compared to other horror films, “Relic” is not the scariest film you could watch. It instead acts more as a drama with horror elements similar to Lenny Abrahmason’s 2018 film “The Little Stranger.” The difference between those two films, however, is that “Relic” is actually scary.
Finding a horror that is scarier than today’s climate is a challenge even the best writers would struggle against. James tried her best to make a scary movie and while it may have not been the next “Get Out” or “Climax,” she has the potential to make even scarier movies in the future.
What sets James apart from other horror directors is how she is able to make absurd and grotesque moments seem realistic and believable. Her attention to detail regarding physical features and setting on a set is phenomenal. The last twenty minutes of “Relic” was some of the best directing I have seen this year.
Despite the best effort from James in direction, her writing needs some work and if she was given a bigger budget, “Relic” could have been a top five movie of the year.