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Film Information

Plot: A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family's home.
Release Date: 30th October 2020
Director(s): Natalie Erika James
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote
BBFC Certificate: 15
Running Time: 89 mins
Review By: Samuel Love
Film Genre:
Film Rating


Bottom Line

Relic is a horror film that replaces jump-scares with emotional complexity, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful allegorical experience.

Posted October 27, 2020 by

Film Review

It seems like waiting for an innovative and memorable horror film in 2020 is like waiting for a bus. Nothing for ages, then two come along at once! Yes, after the phenomenal Saint Maud earlier in October, we now have another film – all the way from Australia – competing to steal the title of this year’s number one Halloween must-watch. Beware, minor spoilers may lurk in the shadows of this review…

Written and directed by Natalie Erika James, Relic is a haunting tale of a family dealing with the strain of an illness that threatens to tear them apart. The story revolves around a physically and mentally deteriorating matriarch, Edna (Robyn Nevin), and her daughter (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter (Bella Heathcote) investigating her sudden disappearance. What follows is a slow, meditative horror film that gets under your skin through its eerie sound design and darkness-filled frames; your eyes darting around checking every corner to make sure nothing is waiting to pounce.

The disturbing atmosphere of the film – elevated by the film’s nightmare sequences that have Mortimer’s Kay plagued by memories of her grandfather who died alone in the woods – is stunningly executed, creating a viewing experience that is intensely uncomfortable. The film’s use of silence is just as effective as the mysterious sounds of the house, and harks back to A Quiet Place in that long scenes go by before you remember to breathe. Almost the duration of the film takes place within the mould-infested family home, and as Relic goes by you begin to find yourself feeling trapped within its walls.

The trio of performances at the centre of the film are stunning, with Robyn Nevin especially delivering an awards-calibre performance as the tortured matriarch refusing to accept her illness through something between pride and delusion. Anyone who has ever had the pain of witnessing a loved one go through something like this will totally relate to the film, specifically Mortimer’s character who must deal with the grief of saying goodbye to her mother as she knew her.

In a similar vein to another acclaimed Aussie horror The Babadook, Relic’s true power lies in its complex handling of its themes that transform it into something allegorical. The film is a hauntingly poignant study of mental and physical deterioration, and the strain that kind of illness can put on a family. Unusual for horror, the film doesn’t end with a bang or a scare but a quiet whimper of pain and acceptance, and the lasting feeling of Relic is not one of horror. 

Although the film will certainly stay with you long after the credits roll, this is not a film that will haunt your nightmares – director/writer James said their attempt with the film was to “sum up the essence of the experience [of death and decline] emotionally”, and hoped that it would help people process the experience in new ways. Relic is a horror film that replaces jump-scares with emotional complexity, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful allegorical experience.

Samuel Love

Freelance writer. Email:


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