The Relic (1997) – Review

3 Stars

Peter Hyams is one of the most underrated American born directors of the last forty years. Now, semi-retired (he hasn’t helmed a film in almost five years) it’s easier to appreciate his expressionistic style of photography and use of editing techniques. His panache for under-lighting scenes has left many furious and has led to a spectacular debate about his merits amongst cinephiles. The absence of light, jarring cuts, and a jump-scare soundtrack are amongst some of the elements that make The Relic such an enjoyable monster movie. Mixing elements of Aliens, The Mummy, and a police procedural into a gorefest that contains plenty of tension and a few shocks to the system.

A homicide detective (Tom Sizemore) and an anthropologist (Penelope Ann Miller) try to destroy a South American lizard-like god, who’s on a people eating rampage in a Chicago museum. That is the premise of The Relic, a most satisfying and often unsettling thriller that makes effective use of lighting and sound design to deliver some jolts. It’s basic material story-wise, but the film is juiced up by thoughtful direction and artistic ingenuity in some areas.

The first two-thirds of The Relic is the most effective. The last twenty-five minutes turns into a pretty routine series of scenes that are essentially a variation on the cinematic cat and mouse game played by Ripley and the alien aboard her ship’s corridors in Ridley Scott’s Alien, a film which this picture borrows from visually. After two successive films starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, Hyams gets back to a genre which his stylistic sensibilities work in his favor. The Relic would be the last of a trio of consecutive films that can be considered the late-career highlight for director Peter Hyams.

Director: Peter Hyams
Stars: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, Linda Hunt, James Whitmore

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