‘Relic’ cast, director talk horror, female representation

Noah Levine

The new horror film “Relic” from director Natalie Erika James is now playing at drive-in theaters across the country. The film stars Bella Heathcote and Emily Mortimer as a mother-daughter duo caring for their ill grandmother (Robyn Nevin). What starts as a somber tale about a dying family member spirals into a fully fledged horror experience. The Daily Texan joined other publications over Zoom to interview James and her cast. 

The Daily Texan: Why do you think audiences connect with the horror genre? 

Natalie Erika James: It plays on such primal emotions. Fear is really a physical reaction as well as emotional. To be able to externalize fear and talk about interesting themes, but still through an engaging ride, I think that is really the strength of horror and probably why people connect to it. There’s an end to a horror movie. It’s the closest you can get to death without dying, that feeling of fight or flight. Similar to being on a roller coaster ride. 

Emily Mortimer: It’s really entertaining. If you had made just a straight drama about this subject matter, it would’ve been so heavy. There have been wonderful dramas about Alzheimer’s and death but it’s a different kind of experience. The horror genre can mitigate the intensity of the subject matter in a way that makes it more bearable. It doesn’t dilute the intensities of the feelings. You can kind of have your cake and eat it. You can create a movie that is playing in all of these drive-in theaters across America where people are going to get scared and thrilled, but at the same time it’s a story about something really profound. 

Robyn Nevin: I have avoided the horror genre all of my life. I’ve never enjoyed being frightened. I don’t like violence of any kind — I’m hopeless with it. I understand the thing about being in a safe place, knowing that you are safe and knowing that it is fiction. There is a beginning and an end, and you’ll all go out and there will be cups of tea and brandy … or whiskey at the end of it. I completely understand how it works in that way. 

Shannon McGrew (Nightmarish Conjurings): I love how the main cast is all female. Can you talk about the importance of that as an actor and director in the horror genre? 

NEJ: Historically, in horror, it’s often the case that women are objectified in some way or they are the conduit for the violence to happen. That’s always an element of the horror genre that I’ve recoiled from. I suppose there’s an element of consciousness in making all three women have agency and not just being these victims to an evil force. It felt like a really natural choice to just focus on three women. It just makes for a nice atmosphere on set as well. 

EM: I didn’t realize that it was important to me that it was an all female thing until it was happening. I learned so much from just being around women and from not having too many guys in the central, core group. It felt very liberating, and you can be kind of emotionally open with each other. It just felt very kind of free. There was an opportunity to be un-self-conscious in a way that I didn’t really anticipate. It helped that none of us were a-holes. We are kind of cool people.