Real-life horror of Alzheimer's disease inspires new Aussie film Relic

SCARED: Bella Heathcote in Stan's new Australian horror film, Relic.
SCARED: Bella Heathcote in Stan's new Australian horror film, Relic.

ANYBODY who's watched a loved one succumb to the insidiousness of dementia knows it's horrifying to witness.

When Japanese-Australian filmmaker Natalie Erika James paid an overdue visit her grandmother in Japan, who was battling Alzheimer's disease, it planted the seeds for her own family-based horror film.

Relic tells the story of middle-aged woman Kay (Emily Mortimer), who is joined by her 20-something daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote, pictured), in searching for her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) who has disappeared from her home in rural Victoria. Edna soon returns but cannot remember where she's been.

It sets off a series of disturbing events within the increasingly haunted house that test the lives, minds and relationships of the three women.

"I feel like everyone has a story, whether it's Alzheimer's or a loved one whose ageing or ill in some way and has to confront their decline in some way," James says. "It's universal."

Relic has all the typical suspense, gore and bursts of violence that horror is renown for. However, the family dynamic and three strong female leads provide James' directorial feature debut with its most intriguing element.

"Traditionally the way women have been depicted in horror there has been a lot of objectifying and victimising," James says. "Often it's just a woman on screen as a prop, whether it's screaming or being a victim of violence.

"It's the type of horror I tend to recoil from. It's nice to take a step away and work on something against the grain."

The three female leads all shine, but Nevin's performance is the stand out.

"Robyn had a challenging role in having to convey so many facets of Edna's character," James says. "I think she's particularly adept at swinging from vulnerability to brutality on a dime."

Relic is streaming on Stan.