Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
Call it slow burn, arthouse, psychological or (worst of all) elevated, but a shift towards atmospheric horror has become evident over the past few years. Films like The Witch, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria, and Hereditary have all ventured down a similar path to varying levels of success, with filmmakers drawing inspiration from the late-60s and 70s to create balance in a genre that had become a little too Blumhouse-style heavy. Writer-director Natalie Erika James is the latest to the join the ranks with Relic, infusing considered pacing with J-horror influences to craft the best horror - and most emotionally charged - film of the year so far.
Horror filmmakers are usually focussed on terrorising audiences rather than growing emotional investment, and rarely will you see such an intimate and personal culmination to genre storytelling as the one crafted by James in her debut. Which is not to say her film is light on chills, while also showing an innate understanding of how to effectively use jump scares without cheapening them. But the emotional aspect is an unexpected layer you may not at first realise is present, which is part of what makes its unravelling so affective, as James delves into the hearts and minds of three generations of women and the cascading effect declining mental health has on all involved.
Relic also offers a fresh take on the classic haunted house film, its use of metaphor reminiscent of Babak Anvari’s Under the Shadow. The story picks up with Kay being called out to her mother Edna’s remote countryside home accompanied by daughter Sam. Edna has disappeared from the house and there’s a strange atmosphere lingering in the air, with banging sounds coming from the walls, post-it notes filled with cryptic messages and nightmarish dreams plaguing Kay at night.