“I kind of slipped into making horror films accidentally,” tells Natalie Erika James, the director and co-writer of new Australian horror flick Relic, which garnered international attention when it premiered at Sundance Film Festival this year.
“I’ve always been kind of fascinated and drawn to the idea of impermanence and, I suppose the brevity of life, but then the importance of keeping in connection in the face of that,” she adds.
When Edna (Robyn Nevin) goes missing, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) travel to their remote family home to find her. It is after Edna returns home that sinister presence is haunting the house.
Relic begins as a drama and slowly descends into a psychological horror film that personifies fear of how a family can be affected by what is a real-world explanation to Edna’s state – Alzheimer’s.
“The beauty of horror is that it kind of does give you this perfect vehicle to talk about fear because the audience is subjected to this experience that’s so primal, you know, so you can really express emotions in an external and physicalised way, which I find fascinating.”
When co-writing the script with Christian White, James drew on her own experience of a trip to Japan, visiting her grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s.
“This particular trip was the first time she couldn’t remember who I was, and so I think particularly that time, I was really grappling with, these feelings about guilt, about not having gone to visit her more frequently,” she says.
“And at the same time, she lived in this Japanese traditional house that I’ve always been really scared of as a kid. So I think those two things kind of came together in my head, and that was the start of the idea.”
Coming from a background of directing short films, James does note the challenges of the transition from directing short films to a feature film.
“I started writing Relic at the end of 2014, and we shot it in 2018. So, you know, it took a solid four years of writing and casting and financing,” she explains.
“I think endurance is also a challenge that you have to learn to deal with…that kind of marathon mentality is something I definitely learned in the making of this film.”
James enjoyed the experience of having an all-female cast.
“It really felt like a true collaboration, and they were just so on board with everything I was doing, but from an all-female perspective too, we had an all-female stunt team as well. So it was really great.”
While Relic is one for horror fans to enjoy, she does hope that the film will resonate with the audiences on an emotional, truthful level.
“The experience of having your parents age and decline in their abilities and deteriorate and, ultimately, the loss of that is universal,” she says. “I hope it connects with people on that level and that it highlights the importance of connection in the face of something like that.”
From a female perspective, James understands the struggle of becoming a director. From her journey, she wants women who are trying to break into the film industry to not sell themselves short in their abilities.
“No one will give you a chance unless you have something, no matter how small it is, to show what you’re capable of,” she tells.
“You have to believe in yourself first to get other people to believe in you.”
‘Relic’ premieres via Stan on July 10.
Lead image: Emily Mortimer in ‘Relic’