A group of adventurers in search of a mythological object get more than they bargained for when they discover the legend foretelling the end of all life in the universe could actually be true.
"The Relic" by J.M. Logan
Letterboxd Listing: boxd.it/seRe
Check out our Q&A with the director below:
You’ve gotta go through some bad ideas to get to the good ones. Tell us one of your bad ideas. How do you get past the bad ones to find your spark?
By far, the worst idea I ever had was trying to be a film composer. I came from a very musical family, had played piano and written music since I was a little kid, and along with my passion for all things movies, I was captivated by film scores from the moment I saw Star Wars.
As I pursued my early career in make-up effects and monsters, I was always writing music in the background, mostly film-score-oriented pieces for movies I was inspired by, or perhaps intended to make one day. Over the years, my music studio grew larger, so did my ambition to try it professionally – and eventually I was able to convince a few short film directors to let me score their projects.
Met mostly with success, and surrounded by a lot of friends that were starting to make their own projects, I began putting more and more energy into transitioning from FX into composing.
My crowning achievement, what I thought was the launch to my new career, was managing to talk iconic Chinese action movie director Tsui Hark into letting me score the massive sequel to the Jet Li original – BLACK MASK 2: CITY OF MASKS. At the time, it was the biggest buget Chinese movie ever made, and I got the job by playing my demo CD for Tsui while I was on set wrangling monster suits. I truly had no idea what I was doing, but Tsui was impressed enough with my demo to took a chance, and over the next year I managed to pull it off to both his and my own satisfaction. I was on my way.
But -- our character is not often defined by how we handle success – much more it is defined by what we do when we fail. After the big win with Black Mask 2 and the attention it got me – I immediately got hired on sevearl more projects, and very quickly realized that working as a professional film composer is truly one of the most difficult jobs there is in movies, from every imaginable perspective.
The year following Black Mask 2 was one of the most heartbreaking I’ve ever had as all of my new jobs ended in miserable failure, and I could see what I thought was going to be a new life and career evaporating in front of me.
Until I tried to be a film composer:
1. I’d never been fired before.
2. I’d never had anything I’d ever made criticized harshly so casually.
3. I’d never yelled at a director before (or anyone, for that matter).
4. I’d never had a job go so sideways that I couldn’t rescue it.
I got frustrated. I got mean. And I had no one to blame but myself.
Finding our limits are is one of the most valuable lessons we can learn as creative professionals, and while I am a firm believer in pushing against those limits in every way you possibly can – it’s better strategy to get a better approximation of where they are first so you can be more effective in productive stretching -- instead of breaking them.
I was forced to accept with the fact I was simply not musically creative enough, or had a strong enough ego, to hold my own in the film composing world – I was struggling with my own inadequacies and overreacting emotionally instead of looking for a better solution. This was not my nature, nothing ever cut me as deeply as having my cues rejected and/or insulted, and in the end I had to take it as a sign that I needed to leave this job to the people that had more passion and creativity than I did.
It was an amazing experience, one I value tremendously, but I the most important thing I learned was that what I really needed to do was come to terms with the fact that I didn’t want to make monsters, I didn’t want to make film scores – I wanted to make MOVIES. I wanted to write, direct, and produce my own projects, not serve as a cog in someone else’s wheel, no matter what that cog might be. I wasn’t willing to suffer for anything else – and anyone in pursuit of one of the most difficult and competitive career paths ever invented has to take suffering as part of the gig. Welcome it, in fact, because more than likely it will never get easier. You have to love the suffering because the art is worth it, because you can’t not do it.
I wasn’t willing to do that for film composing. Or for FX. I needed to be a director.
This was one of the most important realizations I’ve ever had, and would take many more years to allow myself to fully commit to that goal. If I hadn’t failed at film composing, I don’t know how much longer it would have taken me.
I’m pleased that I can now say with the greatest confidence that it is much more fun to work WITH a film composer as a director than to be one myself, I’ve never felt anything but relief in letting go of that misplaced life goal, and never had a better time going back to writing music for myself instead of someone else.
Do you consider yourself part of a horror community?
The horror community is one of the most interesting, diverse, and committed cross-sections of fandom there has ever been, and a recognizable representation of it can found in every corner of the globe, in every language, in every culture on Earth. It carries a devotion amongst its fans that spans a vast field of interests and backgrounds because at its core, horror movies explore themes that are present inside us all.
Coming to terms with mortality and managing fear of the unknown is built into our DNA, it’s why we like horror movies, but for more than a thousand years of art and cultural development ‘evolved’ society has routinely rejected depictions of humans in their most basic, animalistic forms. We are taught that in order to be our best selves, we must rise above our animal nature and celebrate only spiritual, philosophical and intellectual achievements – that transcending our connection to the natural world is how we find enlightenment.
But, blood, violence, fear, and sex are part of us in a visceral way – as exhibited by their extraordinary popularity whether or not we consider it appropriate to discuss in polite company, and our attempted disconnection from these foundational instincts creates an incredibly confusing sense of conflict inside us.
This fabricated, but constant struggle between the instinctual and intellectual spawns some amazing variables, and when free-thinking individuals who are not afraid to express interest the macabre are rejected by conventional society – the most amazing thing happens – they find each other, and are bonded not only by their mutual interests, but also by their mutual rejection by ‘normal’ society.
There is no greater bond than those of the underdogs, the misunderstood, the overlooked who find each other along the way.
As modern society continues to find new ways to connect and identify each other, the horror community has used this as a springboard into a brilliant kaleidoscope of cultural miscreants, all uniquely constructed, and connected because of their individuality and appreciation of all things unusual.
It is a community that uses its rejection by conventional society as fuel, revels in its embracing of the things others find repulsive, and in that they find the support, love, and acceptance they did not find elsewhere. It has become a movement so powerful and expansive that it is rapidly overtaking the mainstream.
Somehow, this community has turned the exploitation of our fear of mortality and violence into a medium that sparks joy, laughter, and sense of community that was built from its foundation with a celebration of diversity, with the only prerequisite for indoctrination being a love for all things weird.
It's a vibrant, unique community that I appreciate more and more as it evolves, and I consider myself privileged to be very much a part of it.
When you’re building the world of your film, where do you look for inspiration?
I have a deep love of humanity, the world on which we live, the universe in which we exist, and I find inspiration in everything I see and experience. Everything from the way the sunlight falls on the mountains when I’m on a morning run to the cartoons drawn in dry-erase marker on a taco stand menu; from a walk in a Japanese garden to imagining the story behind a guy who cuts me off on the freeway, willing to risk all our lives for whatever that story might be. It’s all fair game.
Being particularly attracted to the existential nature of cosmic horror, I often draw a lot of inspiration from studying the history of science, the ‘how we know what we know’, and the mysteries of our ever-changing understanding of the mechanics involved in what we think we know might work.
One of the most profound realizations I ever had was the moment I understood that neither I, nor any other human, can truly understand how big our universe is. Our galaxy. Even our solar system. It’s just simply beyond the comprehension of our wet brains to truly grasp something that size. Even physicists can’t do it.
This was a total revelation to me. The complete acceptance of something I simply could never understand, and as I layered an infinite amount of time into the equation along with an infinite amount of space – it was the first time I recognized how entirely inconsequential my, and all of humanity’s existence is. I loved how small it made me feel. How small it made everything feel against its magnificent weight – and it gave me a freedom I’d never had before.
It opened my mind to an infinite number of possibilities, in everything that has ever existed or ever will exist – and for me, there is nothing that sparks more creativity than taking off the guard rails and allowing imagination to run wild. It was a realization that given infinite time and infinite space – all things are not only possible, but probable.
There is nothing more inspiring than that!
What would you do if you woke up inside of your film?
Ha! If I woke up inside THE RELIC, and was aware of what was really going on, I’d probably strip and run outside into the snow, hoping to peacefully freeze into blissful oblivion before what’s coming next could happen.
Lightning round: Freddy or Jason? Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft? Practical or CGI? Post Apocalypse or Pre Apocalypse?
Freddy, always Freddy. He was my first love in the horror movie world. If you break down backstories, Freddy’s is absolutely one of the most haunting amongst horror movie icons. We tend to forget the history with all his later wisecracking – but a man who kidnapped and murdered so many children that the neighborhood parents went vigilante and burned him alive for justice, only to later have their sin show up with his resurrection in their own children’s nightmares where he can murder them in ways he could only imagine before? Come on. Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees combined can’t beat that twisted story. Maybe Hellraiser…
Stephen King AND HP Lovecraft. I could never choose between them. They both illuminate in vastly different ways – but both are visionaries in our understanding of ourselves and what we are afraid of.
I worked in makeup effects for almost 20 years, so I have a deeply rooted preference for well executed practical effects. I love what CGI brings to the table, but it too often gets used as a crutch and get consumed by itself at the cost of its humanity. It’s an amazing tool to be used judiciously, but I always try to do as much practically as possible. I think we as viewers connect more instinctually to something physical, and so do actors and a movie crew.
Over time, I’ve become less a fan of the post apocalyptic vision of the future. I never imagined we’d really be battling robots trying to destroy humanity, but the more I look around at the state of our planet, our continued disinterest in stopping the freight train heading our way, the more I find the possibility of an ecological apocalypse a bit too real sometimes. I go to the movies to have fun, and I think I prefer psycho-killers and spaceships to a vision of the world it feels more and more likely the children of our generation might actually witness. Bummer answer. Now I’m depressed.
How do you go about creating the props and sets for your film? How do you create objects that are relatable but unfamiliar?
I’ve always loved making things, and have been building props, sets, armor, monsters, and makeup since I was a little kid.
Sometimes I will build something myself, mostly if I’m out of time or I can’t find someone better to do it – but any time possible I love to find people that have a different vision than mine and encourage them to break my expectations. Filmmaking is my favorite art form because it is the most collaborative. There is nothing I love more than writing some words in a script, and handing it off to a crew of brilliant artist to think of all the things I never did. It’s the combination of all of our contributions that makes it work.
In many ways, I’m super bored with my own imagination so I’m always much more excited to use my ideas as a springboard for other people to do their own brilliant work! Putting together a group of people that can create a feedback loop of creative inspiration is the best part of making movies! It’s the fire that drives us all!
In THE RELIC, there is a particular object of power in the story that needed to be familiar, but also alien – so we started with pulling lots of pictures of objects that might be similar from history, and then narrowing it down to the ones that triggered the feeling I was hoping to achieve. We then took all those pictures pulled our favorite pieces of them, added a little of our own influence, and came up with a design that both suited the historical requirements and was something none of us had seen before.
Conversely, the monster we made was supposed to be more alien than familiar, so we used construction techniques that allowed its form to be much more fluid and incomprehensible.
In the end, creating something familiar or alien is a decision made to help tell the story of the script, and there are a lot of different ways to get there!
What scares you, and does it inspire your storytelling?
The thing that scares me most is the thing I love in cosmic horror – the idea that everything that means anything to us could be casually wiped clean of existence by some inadvertent aspect of our universe, leaving absolutely nothing left.
I apply this definition liberally as it could take the form of anything from an errant chunk of iron left over from the Big Bang connecting with our planet at a thousand miles a second and send all Earth into unceremonious oblivion with no one left to remember it all; to a rift in dimensional time that allows creatures on the other side to drift onto our plane to cause pain and suffering on our meaty human bodies and psyche; to a simple ghost story that could have a deeper underlying meaning.
Fear of the unknown is the most fundamental of our psychological mechanics, and exploiting it in the most creative way possible is something I could spend a lifetime exploring and experimenting with.
And finally, Ghostface would like to know ‘What’s your favourite scary movie?’
I don’t think I’ll ever make anything that I couldn’t in some way credit inspiration from John Carpenter’s THE THING.
Obviously, I’ve had a lot of inspiration over the years, but to me, the inventiveness not just of the effects, but also of the human aspects of that story has never been matched in a monster movie. It gets everything it tries to do right on every level, succeeds in being terrifying both psychologically and supernaturally, and relies on circumstance for its horror rather than psychological tricks.
It takes a simple concept and threatens all life on Earth entirely without malice simply by the existence of the alien and its very nature. The antagonist is as much a victim in that movie as the protagonists, both victims of circumstance, each from their own conflicting perspectives. One cannot exist among the other without being consumed or destroyed with total pragmatism.
It is the perfection of cosmic horror.