RELIC – Review by Lana Wilson-Combs

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Australian director Natalie Erika James makes an impressive feature film-directing debut with the horror movie, Relic.

If Relic is any indication of James’ filmmaking talents, horror fans should be trembling with delight to see what else she has in store.

Relic, which James co-wrote with Christian White (Creswick)– is flat-out creepy. It’s a good old-fashioned haunted-house thriller with a nifty twist from producers Jake Gyllenhaal (Spider-Man: Far from Home) and Anthony and Joe Russo (Avengers: Endgame).

Emily Mortimer stars as Kay, a career driven parent who works around the clock while trying to raise her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote, The Neon Demon and TV’s Bloom). It’s a balancing act that unfortunately leaves little time for Kay to visit and watch after her elderly and widowed mother Edna (Robyn Nevin (TV’s Doctor Doctor) who lives in a huge house tucked away in the Australian woods.

Kay is worried when she hasn’t heard from her mother and especially when neighbors tell her that they have not seen Edna or been able to reach her by phone.

So, Kay and Sam decide to find out what is going on. When they arrive at the house, it’s an absolute mess. Dirty, moldy, and stinky. Post-It notes with messages like “turn off the tap,” “flush the toilet” and an odd one that says “don’t follow it” have been placed throughout the house. Yet there is no sign whatsoever of their mother.

Now they are afraid that something bad has happened. Kay heads to the police department and talks with an officer who recommends she file a missing person report. The next day, a search team is formed, and they set out to track down Edna through the massive forest. Nothing turns up any clues. However, when Kay and Sam arrive back to their mother’s house, they discover Edna inside barefoot, disheveled, and drinking tea and acting as if nothing has happened and everything is perfectly fine.

What’s even more bizarre is that their mother refuses to tell them where she’s been or if anything is wrong with her. She initially refuses to visit a doctor, but agrees to after being pressured by Kay and Sam. She checks out fine except for a nasty bruise she has on her chest. This takes on more significance as the movie rolls along.

Clearly, something isn’t right with Edna. She talks to an imaginary person in the house, walks in her sleep and chews on old family photographs. Her mood swings become too much for them to deal with. As much as Kay would like to take care of her mother, she simply can’t. They soon realize there is a sinister presence lurking within the house that is traumatizing Edna and ultimately could control them as well.

With Relic, director/screenwriter Natalie Erika James has crafted a taut horror flick that incorporates aging and dementia into its storyline. The clever use of music and lighting in the film, particularly those long shots of the dimly lit hallways in that creaky old house, really ramp up the fear factor and provides several well-earned jump scares.

Relic premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January to appreciative audiences. It begins streaming on various platforms July 10.

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Lana Wilson-Combs

Lana Wilson-Combs has more than 20 years experience as a journalist. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a Bachelor's of Arts Degree in Radio/Television, but began her career as a sports writer in the Bay Area at the Oakland Post newspaper before becoming a movie critic and entertainment writer. She is the founder of and on-air movie critic for KFBK Radio Station in Sacramento, California where she currently resides.