Film review: Relic (15)

A still from the film Relic

A still from the film Relic - Credit: Archant

There’s slow-burn tension and creeping unease in this domestic chiller about three generations of women in a ramshackle house, but is it style over substance?

A still from the film Relic

A still from the film Relic - Credit: Archant

Relic: is it a domestic drama about dementia masquerading as a horror film to get people to see it? Or is it a horror film masquerading as domestic drama to seem respectable? Either way, this Australian production is following the path of arthouse chillers such as Hereditary, Under The Shadow and, most particularly, The Babadook. Its scares are all about half-glimpsed figures in the peripheries and unexplained noises.

It offers intimations of menace rather than direct threats. There are none of the bludgeoning major jumps the kids at the multiplexes crave.

Three generations of women - granny Nevin, daughter Mortimer and granddaughter Heathcote - move in together in the former’s large, ramshackle house after she goes missing for three days but can’t remember what happened.

Is she just forgetful, or is some other force at work?

James’s debut feature has a strong visual presence. All the jumble and household clutter, the sprawling damp patches, are used to create a sense of unease.

Its slow-burn tension and ambiguity are certainly effective. We may though haggle over whether, ultimately, it has the substance to match the style.

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3/5 stars

Directed by Natalie Erika James. Starring Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote. In Cinemas and on digital. Running time: 89 mins.