Horror has always been used as a brilliant metaphor for exploring and dissecting hardships and trauma. In Natalie Erika James’ latest film RELIC, co-written by James and Christian White, three generations of women “are haunted by the manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home.” Beautifully executed with terrifying visuals and heartbreaking performances, RELIC has rightfully positioned itself as one of the best films of the year, with a 92% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the cast as part of a round table interview for the release of the film. Present for the discussion was Director Natalie Erika James as well as actors Robyn Nevin (The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded), playing Edna, the matriarch of the family and the one suffering from dementia, Emily Mortimer (Mary Poppins Returns, Lars and the Real Girl), in the role of Edna’s daughter, Kay, and Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), in the role of Edna’s granddaughter, Sam.
For this interview, we discussed their experiences working with a female director as well as taking part in a female-led movie and how that relates to the stereotypical roles of women presented within the horror genre. Read on to learn more.
Natalie Erika James: I think, originally, we had a few more male characters in the script but what was important to me were the female relationships, the mother/daughter relationships. Throughout the development process, we started to strip those back and I think it makes for, just narratively, it just kind of makes a clearer, more concise view of those relationships. Everything else felt a little bit extraneous to that. Historically in horror, it’s often the case that women are often objectified in some way or they are this kind of conduit for the violence to happen to. That’s always an element of the horror genre that I’ve kind of recoiled from. I suppose there’s an element of consciousness in making all three women have agency, I suppose, and not just be these victims to an evil force – it’s a little bit more complicated than that. It felt like a really natural choice, in the end, to just focus on three women. It just makes for a nice atmosphere on set, too. It was altogether positive for me.
Emily Mortimer: I didn’t realize that it was important to me that it was an all-female thing until it was happening. Then I just… I learnt so much from just being around women and from not having too many guys in that kind of central core group. It felt very liberating and you could kind of be emotionally open with each other, in a way, without there being any… I don’t know, it just felt very free. There was an opportunity to be unselfconscious, open, and free, in a way that I didn’t really think I was going to anticipate or that it was going to be noticeable or important to me or anything; until suddenly there we were in the middle of it and I kept thinking this is so cool. It helped that none of us was a-holes (laughs).
Robyn Nevin: It’s so interesting hearing Natalie talk about the genre cause I don’t know anything about the genre, really. She’s always kind of had a problem with the fact that women were subjected to the violence. I’ve noticed in the reviews, and I’ve never seen this before, but the three women are equally responded to, they have equal inches in the review. That’s very interesting and very unusual for three people to have equal… the balanced is shared between them so equally. It’s really unusual on stage or in film, really. Like Emily said, I hadn’t anticipated… yes, it’s three generations of women, yes that’s interesting, but I didn’t think, “Oh, this is going to be different” because it had three women. I had no expectations in terms of that gender composition. But I do think it was different and I also agree with Emily – it just may have been the women, the particular individuals and how we happen to fit so well together that there wasn’t an a-hole as she said. It may have nothing to do with the lack of men, I don’t know, but I liked it.
Bella Heathcote: Even when I read the script I remember thinking it was really incredible. These three women were kind of… it felt like everyone was on equal ground and everyone had their own unique journey. They all worked together and supported each other but they weren’t dependant on one another. I just thought that was really great. I also thought it was fantastic that the women could be… their relationships could be a bit messy at times. The women didn’t have to be perfect, they’re allowed to be flawed – each of the characters was flawed. That said, they’re all three-dimensional, each of the characters, and I thought that was amazing. It wasn’t just one three-dimensional woman and two poorly written supporting women, it was like all of us were really well fleshed out.
Natalie Erika James: I think it’s also the case in real life that a lot of the caregiving does often fall on women as well. So that felt like an appropriate avenue to take it down. I actually just remembered something on the topic of women in horror. The first iteration of the script [for RELIC] was a short film that I wrote, prior to Creswick (2017), which was very much in the same world. I remember pitching it to someone for it to be in an anthology and the guy said to me, his feedback was “Oh, yeah, great, but I think it’s a bit too tasteful.” Like, it was a criticism, it was the most incredible thing. Then he goes, “I just think you should just make it a bit more spicy.” Take that as you will.
In Unison: What an a-hole!
RELIC is now available on VOD and Digital. For more on the film, check out our review here.