Reviewed by GREG KING
Stars: Penelope Ann Miller, Tom Sizemore, James Whitmore, Linda Hunt, Clayton Rohner, Chi Muoi Lo, Robert Lesser
Running Time:110 minutes
Alien in the museum? This glib one-liner is probably the best way to describe Peter Hyams’ new horror film The Relic. Hyams has always been a very good director of genre thrillers such as Capricorn One, Sudden Death, etc, and in this occasionally gory film he deftly plays on our fear of superstition and the unknown.
The Relic deals with the Kothoga, a mythological creature from South American legend that returns to life and wreaks bloody vengeance on the modern world for unthinkingly tampering with ancient cultures. The Kothoga is part reptile/part mammal, and able to assume the DNA mix of its victims which enables it to continually change shape and size. The horrific creature is inadvertently brought to America with a collection of ancient relics and evidence uncovered during an archaeological expedition in deepest South America and destined for the Chicago Museum of Natural History. The museum is mounting an exhibition exploring superstition throughout the ages, but during its celebrity studded opening night gala party the wealthy patrons get more than they bargained for as one of the nastiest of all ancient myths suddenly comes to life.
Tough homicide cop Vince D’Agosta (Tom Sizemore, from Strange Days, etc) becomes involved with the bloody reality of this horrific mythical creature when an investigation into a boat load of strangely dismembered corpses eventually leads him to the museum. There he meets the beautiful biologist Margo Green (Penelope Ann Miller, from Carlito’s Way, etc), her crippled mentor Dr Frock (James Whitmore, from The Shawshank Redemption) and the museum’s powerhouse cultural director Dr Ann Cuthbert (played by diminutive Oscar winner Linda Hunt, from The Year Of Living Dangerously, etc), who become caught up in the battle to stop the creature. In probably her most physically demanding role yet Miller makes for a credibly resourceful heroine in the Linda Hamilton/Sigourney Weaver mould, while Sizemore projects a strength and confidence as the street wise cop confronted with something beyond his sphere of experience.
Four time Oscar winning special effects creator Stan Winston (Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, etc) has designed the hideous Kothoga, a creature that is very mobile in moving around the museum, isolating its chosen targets and picking them off at will. This fearsome, shape changing creature is only glimpsed as shadows or in furtive sightings, which adds to the palpable sense of terror that slowly permeates the film as it moves towards its climactic final showdown between man and beast.
A team of four writers, including Amanda Silver (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle) and Amy Holden Jones (Indecent Proposal, etc), have fashioned the best selling horror novel originally written by Lincoln Child (who has edited numerous horror story anthologies), and Douglas Preston (who drew upon his background working in a museum to give the unusual setting some authenticity) into a slick and suspenseful blend of horror and sci-fi. Hyams brings some touches of genuine suspense to the improbable and occasionally clichéd material.
Hyams usually does his own cinematography on his films, and here he has decided to use natural lighting wherever possible to slowly increase the claustrophobic tension. Much of the action takes place inside the darkened museum or in the bowels of its subterranean tunnel system, and consequently the film is often quite dark and eerily lit only by flashlights.
The Relic is essentially a B-grade creature feature given solid production values through a lavish budget, superb state of the art technical and special effects, and a solid cast. Hyams has also deliberately tried to recreate the striking visual language and genuine shocks that were an integral part of the original Alien, and has succeeded superbly. There are several moments in this gruesome, proficiently staged and gripping special effects driven horror film that should scare audiences out of their seats.