Sundance’s lauded Midnight section has hosted films from all sorts of rising genre stars over the years — including such big names as Jennifer Kent, Adam Wingard, Jon Watts, David Robert Mitchell, Jim Mickle, and Karyn Kusama — and this year was no exception, with the fest playing home to fresh works by a number of new filmmakers worth watching, including Natalie Erika James.
For her first feature, James — who has been churning out creepy, unique shorts for almost a decade — opted to put a twist on the classic haunted house thriller. While all the normal genre elements are there, from a big, out-of-the-way house to a family at loose ends and the lingering sense that something creepy is prowling said big, out-of-the-way house. But James, who also co-wrote the film alongside Christian White, has some fresh ideas as to what’s really scary (and what kind of presence might actually haunt a house and a family).
Bolstered by a cast that includes three powerhouse female stars, including Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, and Robyn Nevin, to say the film has some smart twists is to put it mildly, though its official synopsis does a good job of laying out the details and skirting around its best surprises.
Per the film’s official synopsis: “When elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to their family’s decaying country home, finding clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. After Edna returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared, Kay’s concern that her mother seems unwilling or unable to say where she’s been clashes with Sam’s unabashed enthusiasm to have her grandma back. As Edna’s behavior turns increasingly volatile, both begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her. All three generations of women are brought together through trauma and a powerful sense of strength and loyalty to face the ultimate fear together.”
Part family drama, part horror story, James’ debut seems poised to stick with audiences long after its last chilling surprise. IFC Films’ IFC Midnight label will release “Relic” in theaters and on VOD on July 10.
Check out the film’s first teaser trailer below, which hints at some of the big swings James has undertaken with her first feature.