Relic is an Australian horror film directed by Natalie Erika James and starring Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote.
Not the typical
I went into Relic expecting it to be a hard-core scare-fest. What I got was a slow-burn atmospheric movie essentially about dementia and the sadness that is parents growing old and vulnerable.
Kay and Sam return to their family home after Kay’s mother Edna goes missing. However, a day later she comes back, seemingly lucid, saying that she’s been in the house throughout. What follows is a creep-fest that consumes not just Edna, but everyone else – even the house.
So, there are two ways to take in Relic. It can be perceived as a supernatural horror movie, or as someone suffering from dementia being consumed by what they see. This movie is a slow-burn, there’s a lot of atmospheric horror that runs throughout the movie. It keeps building these feelings up until the last moment, where it ends off in a very uncomfortable way (in a good way).
For me, personally, Relic is about that the dread we feel when our parents grow old and are unable to care for themselves – especially if they suffer from something like dementia. It’s a horrible feeling of seeing your loved one slowly falling apart and being unable to remember anything, or seeing things that are not there. It’s heart-breaking and it’s horrible. And that is exactly what Relic wants to show us.
Sure, you can interpret it whichever way you want, the movie is open to that as well.
The last scene, and this is a spoiler so there’s your warning, is especially horrifying. When Kay realises that she doesn’t want to abandon her poor old mother, like her great-grandfather. Her recurring dreams talk about a trauma that has never been forgotten, and she doesn’t want the same fate for her mother.
So, getting over her fear, she takes off her mother’s outer shell, making her vulnerable, and lies down with her, with Sam joining them. It’s a promise probably that they won’t leave each other, come what may. And Sam realises that Kay is walking down the same path as her mother.
Dark and damp
The entire movie is dark and brooding. There’s something off about the house and Edna, and you’ll feel that from the moment the movie starts. Relic is terrifying, and sometimes very sad, and that’s because of its very believable performances.
Emily Mortimer and Robyn Nevin as Kay and Edna respectively do an excellent job as a daughter and mother trying to understand a disease that is slowly engulfing their family whole. Edna’s scary, yet vulnerable performance is a stab to the heart and the horror nerve – all at once.
So is Mortimer’s. She wants the best for her mother and really doesn’t want to abandon her, but it’s a challenge to care for someone with an illness such as her mother’s. However, she realises before it’s too late that her mother needs her now more than ever, and Mortimer portrays it as realistically as possible.
Summing up: Relic
If you’re looking for an atmospheric horror movie, then Relic is your best bet. Be warned though, jump-scares are all but absent here, so if you’re looking for something like that, you’ll be disappointed.
The movie leaves you guessing whether it’s all in Edna’s mind and a manifestation of Kay’s fears, or whether something really is amiss inside the house. That notion is further explored when the family gets lost in the labyrinth of passages inside the house – which might be the making of something supernatural or is a literal manifestation of Edna’s disturbed mind. The choice is yours to make.
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