How Scary Is Relic, the Well-Reviewed New Haunted House Movie?

Put it this way: It earns the comparisons to The Babadook.

Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote in Relic (2020)
Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote in Relic. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by IFC Midnight.

For die-hards, no horror movie can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one can leave you miserable. Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies, comparing them to classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down each movie’s scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore.

This time: Relic, a well-reviewed new Australian haunted house movie that’s arrived stateside for a very limited theatrical run. It also starts streaming Friday. Not to be confused with The Relic, the 1997 creature feature in which a hypothalamus-eating monster chases Penelope Ann Miller around a museum, this slow-burn domestic thriller follows a grandmother, mother, and daughter for a few long days in their ancestral home as they confront a family curse and a mysterious figure who likes to bang on walls and hide under beds. The fine cast includes Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote. Is this a quarantine treat for scaredies of all tolerances, or will it haunt the rest of your summer of isolation? Read on.

Rated 6 for Suspense.
Chart by Slate. Photo by IFC Midnight.

Relic will challenge impatient viewers with its character-driven first two acts, in which eerie set design and a few bumps in the night take a back seat to generational drama about whether to put grandma in a home. But in the third act, figurative horrors become more literal, and first-time director/co-writer Natalie Erika James flexes her considerable horror muscle, with results that may be abusive to your armrest.

Rated 7 for Spookiness.
Chart by Slate. Photo by IFC Midnight.

Relic earns the requisite comparisons to its Australian brethren The Babadook with a crafty, spare set and minimalist-until-they’re-not horror effects. The, erm, skin-crawling final scene will certainly give at least some viewers nightmares. Special advisories to anyone who’s dealt with an ailing parent, and to anyone in quarantine who feels (ahem) trapped inside four walls.

Rated 7 for Gore.
Chart by Slate. Photo by IFC Midnight.

At the beginning of this movie, I would not have expected I’d end up yelling “gross” at the TV, but here we are. The gore is not extreme but suggestive enough that I’m going high, thanks in part to the aforementioned finale.

Rated 6 on the Scaredy Scale.
Chart by Slate. Photo by IFC Midnight.

As with The Babadook, Relic will likely destroy some viewers and leave others scratching their heads. But if you like your scares grown up, have a medium horror tolerance, and cannot browse Netflix’s bleak catalog anymore, open some wine after dark this weekend and give it a shot.

For more of Slate’s culture coverage, listen to a spoiler-filled discussion of the Hamilton movie.