After being informed that her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) has gone missing, Kay (Emily Mortimer) travels from Melbourne with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to a country house to find answers and, hopefully, Edna herself. Suddenly reappearing after days of search parties, Edna at first seems unfazed by the whole affair, however, Kay and Sam see something very different in her. With each passing day, attitudes become more hostile, violent and aggressive as the curse of dementia begins to affect more than just Edna’s behaviour, twisting the house into a great, suffocating deformity.
Doing away with jump scares to invest instead in more sinister undertones, Relic is a curious take on the horror genre, perhaps falling into the mystery/psychological thriller category. The film builds tension relentlessly, laying the first foundations without a moment’s respite; although Relic never packs that chilling, scream-inducing kick. Some may argue that this simply disables the point of the film, but on the contrary, by presenting a product in this way, director Natalie Erika James allows for a slightly gentler and more profound narrative in her feature debut, rather than slashing the film’s moral constructs with a ghoulish face leaping out from the shadows.
An immense level of symbolism is sewn into every fibre of the film, encapsulating and embracing its themes, while also raising awareness for dementia. Adopting a slow and steady pace, Relic takes the viewer one step at a time through each stage of the plot, with often limited or blinkered dialogue, which, at times, can be both thought-provoking and tedious. Mortimer, Nevin and Heathcote all do grand jobs and carry the film through despite the very limited cast. Though, the viewer is sometimes left calling out for a bit more direction from the dialogue, as numerous scenes are excessively paranormal but with little explanation.
The physical and abstract representations of dementia are very well executed, albeit a little mystified at first as Relic tries to incorporate some horror-esque hues. For the first hour, you may not be sure entirely what is going on or happening to the characters. If it doesn’t click by the beginning of the third act, you are left watching something severely disturbing and unsettling. If you do “get it”, however, the film certainly works in your favour.
The problem with this is that Relic could prove to be divisive. Its clear message is there to be seen and, on the whole, James’s feature is an interesting and unique concept. It will be fascinating to see how it is received, particularly during this time of a global pandemic when practically the whole world is crying out for good cheer. But, for horror fans, Relic could be another to add to the collection of scary films that successfully carry a deeper meaning, ringing fearfully true for some.
Relic does not have a UK release date yet.
Watch the trailer for Relic here: