I only became aware of Relic back in June, when we featured the trailer in one of our TrailerChat posts. After looking into it a little more, I started to come across the traditional ‘scariest movie of the year’ headlines, which seem to accompany the release of pretty much every movie of this kind before release. I also saw comparisons being made to both Hereditary and The Babadook, and anyone who has ever heard any of my rantings on the subject before will know exactly which opposite ends of the movie rating scale I consider those movies to be on! Thankfully, this feature debut from writer/director Natalie Erika James lands nicely on the same end of the scale as The Babadook.
When Kay (Emily Mortimer) receives word that her elderly mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin) has gone missing, she and daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) drive out to her rural home to investigate. We’d already been introduced to Edna briefly in the opening scene, where she stood naked with her back to us, in a sequence which had already managed to introduce an overwhelming sense of dread and unease. Something that Relic continues to build upon for much of its 89 minute runtime.
Kay and Sam spend some time in the house, liaising with the police and looking for clues to Edna’s whereabouts while they rummage through her large house. Post-it note reminders are dotted around the house, indicating that Edna is now struggling with dementia. From the simple, helpful kind of reminder, such as “take pills” and “turn off the tap”, to the slightly more sinister “don’t follow it”. There are lots of strange, unexplained noises in the house too, with a black mould growing on some of the walls. All the while, a pulsing, pounding score in the background continues to effectively layer up on that dread and unease I mentioned before. While browsing through some paperwork, Kay finds an old sketch of a cabin in the woods and casually mentions to Sam that it was where her great grandfather died alone, of dementia. Apparently the windows, and other elements of the cabin, were used in the building of the house that they are now in, and despite the fact that Kay is currently suffering from dark and disturbing nightmares involving the cabin and her great grandfather, none of this seems to trigger any alarm bells whatsoever!
When Edna suddenly returns home one morning, with no memory of where she’s been, she has dirt under her fingernails and a large and nasty bruise on her chest, which over time begins to look suspiciously like that black mould that’s forming on the walls. While Sam wants to stay and be near to her grandmother, Kay is more focused in checking out care homes to ship her off to. Edna swings between being perfectly normal, with a sharp memory, to periods of forgetfulness and rage. Some time taken to follow the family interactions over the next few days really helps to deepen the characters’ relationships in our minds, highlighting existing tensions between them. And restricting pretty much all of the movie to the confines of the mysterious house only serves to ramp up the unease, in preparation for the final act.
The description of Relic on IMDb states “a manifestation of dementia consumes the family home”, and you can probably gather as much anyway, just by watching the trailer. Instead of the traditional haunted-house movie that you might expect from the earlier part of the movie, we’re treated to an allegory for the horrors of dementia. The house becomes the star of the movie, seemingly altering itself to induce claustrophobia, confusion and panic in Sam and Kay as they become trapped in its shifting corridors, lowered ceilings and newly sealed doors.
Relic can at times feel a little too metaphor driven, and while I understood the beauty and the meaning behind it’s closing moments, I felt it threw up a lot more questions than it answered. Depending on how much that bothers you may affect your overall enjoyment, but I still found it to be an impressively original movie, which successfully managed to creep me out!
You can find out more about where it is available to watch as part of this years London Film Festival here: https://www.bfi.org.uk/london-film-festival/screenings/relic
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