Playing out like a particularly morbid episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, the Australia-set Relic digs into a family’s dark past to find the secrets lurking within. Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut sets up a promising story about the horrors of mental deterioration, but its slow drip-feed approach and liberal borrowing of clichés leaves us with a film that is far less clever than it wants to be.

Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote play mother and daughter Kay and Sam, travelling to their mother/grandmother Edna’s (Robyn Nevin) remote house after she is reported missing. What they find is an empty house filled with ominous clues until, suddenly, Edna returns. Initially she seems OK, keen to laugh off the strange events as little more than a bizarre episode. But it soon transpires that all is not as it seems.

It’s a great premise, and James sets up a number of intriguing motifs early on. Sadly, it doesn’t take long before, like Edna’s condition, everything unravels. The film’s opening hour quickly turns into a drab checklist of modern horror stereotypes: minimal moody lighting? Check. Predictable sound cues to build tension? Check. Hokey dream sequences? Big check. Mortimer and Nevin are the film’s saving graces, with committed performances, but by the time we get to a sparse handful of effective moments in the final act, most will have long checked out.

Oftentimes it can be hugely reductive to claim a film is a mere copycat of another, but it really is impossible to ignore the shadow of Ari Aster’s Hereditary that looms over Relic. James’ film manages to fumble the ball in its exploration of familial illness so many times that when we eventually reach the laughably predictable final note, it’s hard not to feel you’d have been better off simply rewatching Hereditary.

RATING: 2/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Chris Bunton

DIRECTOR: Natalie Erika James

WRITERS: Natalie Erika James, Christian White

SYNOPSIS: A mother and daughter set out to find the family’s matriarch after she mysteriously disappears.