A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home.

Cast:  Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jerermy Stanford, Chris Bunton

Directors: Natalie Erika James
Writers: Natalie Erika James, Christian White

With her first feature, Japanese-Australian filmmaker Natalie Erika James plays with a slow-burn of dread in Relic. Although it doesn’t hit all the marks, or truly succeed with its pay-off, it’s still a fantastic first feature and a haunting look at how dementia can infest an entire family. 

Edna (Robyn Nevin) has been missing for several days so the local police call her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer), who returns with her own daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote) to check up on her mothers home. They don’t find her but do find clues of Edna’s slowly growing dementia. Sticky notes left on the wall reminding her of simple things; new locks installed in rooms all over the house — general oddities occurring.


Mother and daughter begin the search for Edna with the help of the local police for a couple of days to no avail. No one’s seen her. It’s as if she just up and vanished. 

And then, one morning, Kay enters the kitchen to find Edna making herself a cup of tea like nothing has gone wrong. “I must have just got lost,” she explains to anyone who asks for an answer.

What follows for the majority of the film is a tightrope of family drama. Kay begins looking into homes to take her mother to back in Melbourne, but Sam is against the idea. Sam is contemplating moving into her grandmothers home to be able to help her. While mother and daughter battle over what to do with Edna, the oldest member of the family begins showing signs of more aggressive behaviour. In one instance she gives Sam a ring, a family heirloom, only to accuse her of stealing it the next day. Even attempting to rip it off her finger and hurting Sam in the process with little-to-care about her actions. 

Edna has her own story. She proclaims the house is being broken into. By who and what is never stated but she claims things have gone missing, chairs have been moved and that’s why she’s installed all the locks. 

Although Relic doesn’t try and hide its themes, and an obvious building case for dementia against Edna is coming, the film still leaves you guessing. It’s hard to ignore the weird things that are happening within the house. Shadowy figures looming in the background, the sound of people moving within the walls — and that chair was actually moved. Is there more at play here than what you initially assumed? 

Thanks to a haunting score from Brian Reitzell and an eerie soundscape the slow-burn drama begins to fill the house with Amityville Horror vibes. Charlie Sarroff photographs the film with a flavour for darkness and what feels like on-set lighting for the most part. 

The film falters when it reaches its eventual climax but still succeeds in its drama and characters thanks to three fantastic performances from Mortimer, Nevin and Heathcote. Even when the film gets gory there’s a softness from the performances which helps mediate what’s happening on screen.   

Relic does a good job at delving into its themes and exploring a family being corrupted by a horrible disease. The films final moment is hauntingly dark and will hit harder with some, depending on their life experience. I’m looking forward to what Natalie Erika James does next and with names like Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo Brothers backing this as producers you’d assume there’s much faith in her talent going forward.