You Don’t Want to Cast Aside Relic (2020) This Year
Updated: Feb 2, 2021
First Wide Release: July 10, 2020 (Digital/Streaming Platforms)
Director: Natalie Erika James
Writer: Natalie Erika James, Christian White
Runtime: 89 Minutes
Starring: Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
After receiving a concerning phone call about her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin), Kay (Emily Mortimer) travels with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to her hometown to do a welfare check. Shortly thereafter, Edna reappears but begins exhibiting concerning behavior that puts both of them through a loop on what to do or how to handle her. Has their beloved family member succumbed to the effects of aging or is something more insidious afoot? Natalie Erika James directs and co-writes this Australian horror drama.
Relic sets off to showcase the horrors of aging and the ways it can tear families apart and bring them back together in this solid metaphorical horror film.
Relic takes a slow-burn approach in telling its compelling meditation on life and death. It takes a while for the true nature of Relic to fizzle up from the surface, but this works to the film’s advantage as it slowly increases the intensity. To me, Relic isn’t meant to be a truly scary film. It’s much more anguished in its approach. The horror isn’t just in the endless hallways and out-of-control grandmother, but also in the little moments like a woman traveling to a nursing home to see if it's right for her mother only to see how lifeless the conditions are. And that’s what makes Relic special. It leans more into heartbreak than heart-stopping action. I wish I knew the ‘rules’ of the film better, it’s a film that requires more time to digest than a simple viewing, and probably a more profound connection to its material than I may possess.
The cast does a great job here bringing life to some truly intriguing characters. The family dynamic here is very interesting to me. It’s clear that none of them are particularly close but are just close enough to care so deeply about each other. Robyn Nevin delivers a fantastic performance. She is sympathetic the entire time and captures the complexity of her situation, often fluctuating between irritating, terrifying, and tragic. While Nevin anchors this film, Mortimer and Heathcote give solid performances as well. I do appreciate that the character arcs all get resolved in the end in a particularly gratifying way. It feels in line with the film’s metaphor while also delivering a healthy ‘wtf’ moment to end the film on a great note.
Much effort is put in to craft this film, but none of it is exceptionally wow-worthy. There are some nice shots and interesting camera angles used, a bathroom window used in a particularly upsetting scene and a bedroom mirror reflection conversation come to mind. The house itself is pretty creepy, especially once we get lost within it, but doesn’t feel too different from any other spooky house we have already been inside. The film does make interesting use of sound. Sure, there are lots of the typical bumps in the night here. But also, there is a consistent and overwhelming presence of the sound of pouring water. This is also a recurring image and theme in the film, and it creates an uneasy feeling throughout the film. The effects are nicely done, minimalistic, but are still realistic.
Somber and downbeat, but oddly comforting, Relic delivers more emotional impact than most films released this year. The aging process is neglected in films much of the time and is oftentimes exploited in horror. I wasn’t really sure what direction the film was going in, but I ended up enjoying the path chosen by James. It’s a restrained film with much depth, and I appreciate it for what it is and not for what, I’m assuming, many might hope for instead.
Relic doesn’t hold back when discussing the horrors of aging but what I find most interesting about this film is that it also shows how to fight that feeling. The ending is rather hopeful and cathartic for something that has such a sad setup. Again, this is me identifying that this film is made with a specific audience in mind. Obviously, it can, and should, be enjoyed by many, those who have faced lost this meaningful will find more in this film than I did. And I’m very privileged to say that.
Much of the film talks around how to take care of Edna, where characters postulate what is best for her without taking her opinions into consideration or outright ignoring her. Edna’s mood and ability changes throughout the film. Much of her old self is still present when she is first introduced but that slowly crumbles away and is taken over by a more volatile person. I think the film nails the horror of watching the person you love slip away and become almost unrecognizable in the end. The final shot is simply fantastic at summarizing human emotions of fear, love, and acceptance in relation to death. All too often, we get a quick and clean moment of the end of someone’s life in horror, Relic really takes the time to show a scarier and way more realistic depiction of this process. I won’t explain more but it is superbly well-done.
While I don’t think I was the intended audience, I believe Relic is a solid entry into the supernatural horror subgenre. It very well could be an impactful film to you if you have lost a loved one due to old age. It is enjoyable without sacrificing its vision for cheap thrills. It feels at home being discussed with similar family-driven horror films in the subgenre like The Babadook, Under the Shadow, and His House. Relic will come and go without much fanfare this year, but it won’t be easily forgotten.
Overall Score? 7/10