Natalie Erika James’ debut feature Relic has received rapturous reviews after the world premiere in the Midnight section of the Sundance Film Festival.

Critics praised the US-born, Japanese-Australian filmmaker’s wholly original approach to the haunted house genre, the emotional impact and the performances of the three leads – Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote.

Co-written by James and Christian White, the plot follows Nevin as Edna, the elderly and widowed matriarch of the family who goes missing. Her daughter Kay (Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Heathcote) travel to their remote family home to find her. Soon after her return, they discover a sinister presence is haunting the house and taking control of Edna.

Bloody Disgusting’s Meagan Navarro declared: “What begins as a more straightforward yet psychological approach to haunted house fare explodes into full-blown horror in a wholly unexpected way, and Relic marks one audacious debut.

Observing that James uses horror as a metaphor for dementia, Navarro said the film “unnerves, shocks and emotionally devastates with bone-chilling ease.”

The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney said James shows real skill at putting an original stamp on the domestic Gothic genre and predicted the film will find a responsive audience among fans of elevated horror.

Daily Dead’s Heather Wixson said: “A haunting and emotional exploration of the pressures of familial responsibilities and the horrors of aging, Natalie Erika James’ Relic is a powerful reminder of just how hard it can be to watch someone you love slip away from you, both physically and mentally, but also serves as a nifty little horror/thriller hybrid that offers up a few chilling moments to boot.

“Anchored by a trio of beautifully nuanced and demanding performances and a well-crafted script that does a wonderful job of balancing characters and scares, what James has managed to accomplish here with her feature film debut makes for a remarkably confident calling card for her as a director. I eagerly look forward to whatever she does next in her career.”

Endeavour Content is handling international sales for the producers, Carver Films’ Anna McLeish and Sarah Shaw and Nine Stories’ Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker.

Umbrella Entertainment will distribute the film co-funded by Screen Australia, the second developed by the Gender Matters program to go into production following Ride Like a Girl, and Film Victoria.

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