The thrilling horror short “The Relic” manages to pull off the incredible in satisfying both the academic Lovecraft purists and those who want a spectacular body horror showcase. For those in the know, this may be the definitive screen depiction of the crawling chaos, the old God, Nyarlathotep.
The stories of H.P. Lovecraft can be exceedingly difficult to translate to the visual medium. The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival has dedicated itself to promoting the works of the eccentric (and controversial) author and his hugely influential works to the screen. In 2021, the Festival showcased “The Relic” which delivered its apocalyptic story wrapped into a white knuckle short film. Lovecraft’s stories were, to put it mildly, dense. And they were often in the form of short stories talking about blasphemies that are beyond human comprehension.
A number of his creations have been successfully brought to the screen, with the familiar cephalopod monstrosity Cthulhu, the fishy Dagon, and the tentacular Yog Sothoth, but nobody has made a serious attempt to depict Nyarlathotep, the shape-changing god of chaos. For fans of the game The Call of Cthulhu, this being is known to be a powerful force, as he is an active deity, walking the earth in disguise, aiming to bring madness and ruin to the world, constantly hiding his many forms behind masks and disguised in humanoid form, but capable of achieving gargantuan size and mind-shattering shapes.
So, how do you go about showing something like this?
Director J.M. Logan has decided to eschew one of the weaknesses in many Lovecraftian adaptations, the desire to do deep narrative exposition. It’s a trap that can really bog down a movie. Yes, Lovecraft built a well-deserved reputation for opening up the whole thesaurus when doing his verbose descriptions. But if you can show it, why say it? And, to be clear, the name Nyarlathotep is never spoken or referenced in the film, but if you know your Mythos lore, you know who this is.
The film starts in Media Res, like the final scene cut out of a larger film. A group of adventurous explorers has found an ancient relic, a mask with dark powers. The group is in full panic mode, as things apparently did not go as expected, stumbling into their wintry cabin bringing along a bloodied and naked strange man with them, dying from unseen wounds.
Doubts and confusion turn into panic and frenzy as the situation gets weirder and more inexplicable. And then the grand payoff with all of the sloppy tentacle action that fans of the Cthulhu Mythos love to see.
J.M. Logan’s career prior to this was in special effects, make-up, and production management and it really shows up in this short. It feels like a demo reel to get a full feature film of this produced. Think Baskin, as a representative example that went from powerhouse short film to what is destined to be a horror classic, built on the strength of a gory and concise story.
No character arcs here. Minimal exposition. And yet, amidst the chaos, you get just the right amount of information to piece together what is happening. The acting involves lots of yelling, but as these things go, the performances sell the mystery and engage all the high-stress fight/flight/freeze reactions that the story demands. The film is only about 15 minutes long, but it will leave you exhausted.
“The Relic” is streaming for free on Alter, but you can click the link below to watch the whole bloody thing.