REEL Review – Relic (2020)

Director: Natalie Erika James | 1h 29mins | Drama, Horror

Kay (Emily Mortimer), and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), return to their family home in order to take care of Kay’s Mother (Robyn Nevin). When her Mother’s condition worsens, it begins to damage the structure of their house.

James’ new film is an oddly engaging Horror, one that uses the harsh reality of disease as it’s monster. It’s a movie that has an eery atmosphere but wields the real life fear of losing your identity, and everything that comes with it. The walls of the house become infested with the parasitic mould, and the dementia is a blurred figure that is forever following each member of the house until it’s emphatic ending.

The three women in question are quickly built as characters, Kay takes the brunt of the harsh words from either side of her family tree. Sam, her daughter, has a stronger relationship with her Grandma than with her own Mother and Robyn Nevin’s Edna is a prideful lady that’s fearful of the future, losing her identity through this horrifying disease. Each character is played wonderfully, even in it’s campiest moments near the end of the film, as the eery build finally leads to skin crawling discomfort and a horrifying explosion.

Massive chunks of the film are directed with panache. The director, while trying to keep within the symbolism of her story, guides the narrative with the strictest of Horror film rules. Every scene has eery undertones that are constantly building, revealing very little to us but keeping us on a hook for as long as it can. After all, dementia isn’t a sudden thing, it’s a gradual state that chips away at your brain much like the mould does to the walls of Edna’s home. Noises in the night, creepy dream sequences of Kay’s Great Grandpa and even the simplest shots of lingering doorways and corridors all keep the movie’s fear factor on it’s toes.

It’s a beautiful ending in retrospect, one that you may not like as a Horror fan, but one you should appreciate as a human being.

Some parts of the film feel a little out of place, as Edna’s condition worsens and she takes the shape of a creature, she chases Kay around the house in very Horror-show fashion, but it’s Sam’s journey in the labyrinthian corridors of the house that feel out of place. You could argue that the hereditary link in the film means that this is Sam dealing with the potential future she faces, the walls closing in on her gradually. But as she struggles in the maze of decaying walls, there is a much more interesting chase happening on the other side.

This all comes to an ending that at first felt anti-climactic. But after taking the time to think about it, it’s incredibly on theme. Once the chase is over what’s left is a frail shell of a woman, and Kay can’t help but feel sorry for her. After all, it’s easy to run away when things get a little scary, but the strongest thing you can do for someone is stay by their side no matter how your fractured relationship is or even how far gone they are. It’s a beautiful ending in retrospect, one that you may not like as a Horror fan, but one you should appreciate as a human being.

A slow-burning and atmospheric film that has a constant fear-inducing mood even in it’s calmer moments. It’s a film that you need to stick with, even after it’s finished you may not know how you feel about it. But, given time you really begin to appreciate the connections this film makes to real-world trauma and fear.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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