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Thursday, June 18, 2020

‘Relic’ Director Natalie Erika James Talks Personal, Gothic, and Asian Horror Influences on Debut [Interview and Exclusive Alternate Poster Debut]

One of the most buzzed-about horror films out of Sundance this year was the feature debut by filmmaker Natalie Erika JamesRelic. In it, daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), mother Kay (Emily Mortimer), and grandmother Edna (Robyn Nevin) become haunted by a manifestation of dementia that threatens to consume the home. It’s an audacious debut that’s as unnerving as it is devastating (review), and for James, it’s also deeply personal.

The idea for the film, co-written with Christian White, came from James’ grandmother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. The entirety of the narrative and the horror is built around a matriarch’s journey with Alzheimer’s and its effect on her family, but it’s something widely accessible. It’s easy to emotionally connect with the characters in Relic for anyone that’s dealt with the loss of a family member, particularly to illness. As James astutely points out, “Death is such a universal thing. Everybody’s dealt with it. So, it doesn’t really matter whether you’re loved one suffered from Alzheimer’s, other means, or just old age, I think these things apply to everyone.”

Creating such a personal film brought James catharsis, too. “Obviously, the writing of it for me was very emotional, but my grandmother passed a week after we found out that we got into Sundance. It was all very immediate. My parents were able to be with me for the Sundance screening, luckily. I was so shit-scared that they’d hate it. I even sent them the script as a forewarning because you never know, but they loved it. It was incredibly moving for everyone.” James says of the experience, “There was no separation for me between the art and life, which was powerful in some ways and painful in others.”

Death and prolonged illness translate well to horror naturally, but James infused her feature with her biggest genre influences, “Gothic horror and Asian horror are my two big influences in life. Gothic literature was a genre that I loved growing up; then, as a teen, I just got really into Asian horror. I think those two genres do restraint really well, and my tastes have just naturally been informed by that. In Relic, it’s a slow burn for a lot of it until we really go for it in the final act. I’ve always loved when films just slowly lure you into this other world. I love when that transition is unnoticed by the audience, or it’s so gradual that you step back and ask how you got there.”

For those skeptical of any horror film described as a slow burn, rest assured that James does go for the jugular in the final act. That was something she envisioned from the start, “It was definitely there from the beginning, at least the intensity of it. I guess what it tries to do is recreate the experience of having a loved one go through something like that, that it can have these intense moments. I think you do have to go through that journey of absolute terror with the characters for the ending to pay off; to understand the mortality of your parent’s declining and the heartbreak that goes with it. It was a conscious thing even from the first draft.”

As for the visual horror elements, James leaned into practical effects. On creating the physical horror, James shares another significant influence on her film, (slight spoiler warning ahead for those looking to go into Relic completely blind) “I am a massive Cronenberg fan, and have always been into practical effects, prosthetics, and special effects. In terms of Edna’s transformation, we had about seven different stages that started with bruises on her chest then escalated gradually. It took a lot of planning, and I love the logistical planning of figuring out at what point you go up a stage in the transformation.”

The final act offers a visceral horror experience, and its emotional devastation elevated by the practical effects. It can’t be understated, however, the powerful performances by Heathcote, Mortimer, and Nevin. Especially the latter. James says of Nevin’s casting, “Robyn is a bit of a theater legend in Australia; she’s a Member of the Order of Australia, which is the equivalent of being knighted in Australia. She’s a big deal over here, so she was always on our radar. All three of them, really, but I met Robin in L.A., and she just had this edge to her. She’s so intelligent.”

Her debut is still a couple of weeks away from release, but James is already hard at work on her next project. “I’m writing a horror screenplay at the moment that deals with pregnancy and motherhood, in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby. Like folk horror, but set in Japan. It’s very much to do with the female body and control.” It sounds as though we might expect Cronenberg and Asian horror to play major influences again. More importantly, James is continuing her focus on horror, which is fantastic news.

Relic is haunting limited theaters (and drive-ins a week early!), Digital HD and VOD platforms July 10, 2020.



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/interviews/3620410/relic-director-natalie-erika-james-talks-personal-gothic-asian-horror-influences-debut-interview-post-6-18-12pm-et/

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