Carver Films’ Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw have enlisted an A-list cast and some Hollywood heavy-hitters as co-producers and executive producers for Natalie Erika James’ debut feature Relic.
Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote will star in the horror movie which centres on three generations of women – daughter, mother and grandmother – who are haunted by a manifestation of aged dementia that takes over their family home.
Nine Stories’ Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker are producing together with McLeish and Shaw. Anthony and Joe Russo (directors of Marvel’s Captain America and Avengers franchise) and Mike Larocca are executive producing and co-financing via their upstart studio AGBO, which will handle international sales.
Co-written by James and Christian White, shooting starts in Victoria next week, with funding from Screen Australia and Film Victoria. Umbrella Entertainment is the Australian distributor.
“Relic was inspired by the experience of Alzheimer’s within my own family and the shift in family dynamics as we slowly have to parent our parents,” James told IF. “At its core, it explores the fear and heartbreak of dementia and aging through a horror lens.”
Her 2016 short Creswick, which premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival and screened at more than 50 festivals, featured Dana Miltins as a woman whose fear of her childhood home intensifies after her ageing father claims there is another presence in the house.
The Carver Films duo and James were introduced to Gyllenhaal and Marker by WME when they were in Los Angeles last year. WME, which reps James and Nine Stories, then set up a meeting for McLeish with AGBO’s Larocca when she was in LA in April.
“Riva loved the script and with Jake has given us a lot of creative input,” McLeish tells IF. “AGBO is a great fit as a financial partner and executive producer and they will manage the international sales.”
Gyllenhaal and Marker said: “We were so impressed by Natalie’s short film and the level of suspense and horror she was able to capture. We’re thrilled for her to have a bigger canvas in Relic and to work with this stellar group of actors.”
Nine Stories produced David Gordon Green’s Stronger, which starred Gyllenhaal as Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, and Wildlife, Paul Dano’s directorial debut starring Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan, which premiered at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals and will be released in the US by IFC on October 19.
Larocca added: “Relic’s allegorical view of dementia spoke to us in a profoundly emotional way and represents the very best of what the genre has to offer. Natalie is the exact filmmaker that AGBO serves to bolster and we’re proud to support her and help bring her powerful film to life.”
AGBO’s slate includes Cherry, based on a book by Nico Walker which recounts her experiences as a former Army medic who returned from Iraq with extreme undiagnosed PTSD and fell into opioid addiction and began robbing banks. Also Brian Kirk’s thriller 17 Bridges for STX, starring Black Panther’s Chadwick Boseman; Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation, a black comedy thriller starring Odessa Young, Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse for NEON; The Whisper Man, a TV series for Amazon based on Alex North’s upcoming novel about a grieving father who relocates with his young son to a quiet town which, 15 years earlier, was terrorised by a serial killer; and Exit West, based on Mohsin Hamid’s bestselling novel about the global refugee crisis, to be directed by The Imitation Game’s Morten Tyldum.
Currently on screen in The Bookshop, Mortimer will next be seen in Disney’s musical fantasy sequel Mary Poppins Returns alongside Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda. Heathcote’s credits include Dark Shadows, Pride and Prejudice and Zombie and Fifty Shades Darker.
Sally Caplan, head of content at Screen Australia, said: “Relic is especially exciting for us as it is the second Gender Matters Brilliant Stories funded feature to go into production. With Natalie supported by a highly experienced and talented female cast and creative team including Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw of Carver Films, I’m confident this haunting and evocative film will appeal to both local and international audiences.”
Lesley Parker is the line producer with heads of department including DOP Geoffrey Simpson ACS, production designer Steven Jones-Evans, costume designer Louise McCarthy, makeup and hair designer Angela Conte and editor Denise Haratzis. The casting directors are Amy Kaufman (US) and Allison Meadows.