Directed by Natalie Erika James.
Starring Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jeremy Stanford, Chris Bunton, and Catherine Glavicic.
Kay and Sam travel out to see Edna, their staunchly independent cast iron matriarch. After missing for days and following a far reaching search of surrounding woodland she returns home unharmed. However, once the three generations are left alone in the house something becomes abundantly clear….
There is a brooding presence in Relic which cuts through the idyllic scenery and unnerves immediately. Minimal soundtrack, lingering moments of silence and a foreboding set up make this character piece instantly riveting. Directed and co-written by Natalie Erika James it tells the story of three generations through old photos, unexplored back rooms and unspoken realities.
Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote anchor events in the early scenes as two people failing to connect. There are no conversations about absentee fathers, but a strong patriarch either recently or otherwise is never evident. Heathcote’s Sam lacks direction, harbours resentment and looks to her grandmother played by Robyn Nevin to bridge that gap. It is a movie of gestures, uncomfortable silences and emotional repression.
Horror here has a doubled edged sword as Nevin’s Edna is both sharp as a tack, then simultaneously listless and preoccupied. If Relic has a monster it exists in the stark reality of senile dementia which looms large over everything. A sense of uncertainty intertwines with faded memories whilst post it notes elsewhere illustrate Edna’s decline. There are the clichéd horror staples of failing power, never ending corridors and screaming queens but thankfully Relic rises above them.
Performances are convincingly jittery across the board whether it’s in the slack jawed disbelief of a terror stricken Mortimer, or Nevin’s unerring creepiness. Heathcote proves admirably energetic in the latter half, brandishing nothing more than some old pipe and an iPhone. Yet it is in that ending Relic genuinely reveals a trump card, as things get decidedly arthouse before embracing old school horror tropes.
In those final moments it undercuts the horror by dialling things back to the basics of human companionship and family loyalty. It diminishes the fantastical and reminds us of our duty of care to elderly parents. Relic tackles the indignity of dementia both cause and effect, aftermath and otherwise. Natalie Erika James has delivered something here which supersedes horror as a genre and instead addresses the horrific realities of impending old age.
Relic is uniquely intelligence in its ability to tap into universal themes, explore individual fears but do so without resorting to more conventional genre methods. A theory that only gains further credence when you realise heavy hitters Jake Gyllenhaal and the Russo brothers ushered Relic into existence.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★