Relic (2020) | VOD
On the surface, Relic doesn’t exactly distance itself from the pack of fellow horror genre entrants that focus specifically on a broken family and the generational terror that comes with that relational breakdown. Thankfully, in a mentality not dissimilar to what Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House) has perfected, director Natalie Erika James (making her debut here) masterfully blends the more horrific aspects of the genre with an emotional undercurrent that proves unnervingly effective.
It’s evident from the get-go that James has a grasp on the genre and what audiences expect. Offsetting that expectation though is her apparent ability to skewer the limitations, easily navigating the narrative towards both its emotional and horrific potential. It’s a slow-burn of a movie, one that deliberately paces itself so that audiences feel tested and intrigued enough that when James opts to inject a sense of adrenaline into the final moments, we’re devastated even more so as a result.
It’s a familiar plot - a mother returns to her hometown in the wake of learning her own mother has gone missing - but James and her co-screenwriter Christian White layer it with a nightmarish temperament that transcends its seeming simplicities. It may not be a complete surprise when it’s revealed that the elderly Edna (Robyn Nevin) is troubled beyond her apparent dementia diagnosis, but the eerie reveal as to what is possessing her gives a tried and true premise a fresh personality.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Essentially a three-woman show between Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, and Nevin, Relic’s core is hardened by these incredibly organic performances, with the actresses grounding their characters with a sense of realism. Nevin’s performance is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying, and I dare say that audiences who have a close connection to anyone who has (or had) dementia, it may ring damagingly true. Mortimer (sporting an incredibly effective Australian accent) and Heathcote both do exceptional work as two women trying to suppress their turmoil as they witness their mother and grandmother (respectively) come undone in a manner they aren’t equipped to repair.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
"...Blends the more horrific aspects of the genre with an emotional undercurrent..."
Much like the film’s temperament, the reveal as to what is overtaking Edna is gradual, with the horrific imagery that laces her body a testament to how subtle gore can often be more effective. This isn’t an overtly bloody film in any manner, but it’s far more unnerving due to its realism. Similarly, the house and all its intricacies - there’s an effective sequence featuring Heathcote’s character seemingly lost behind the walls of the home as Mortimer frantically searches on the other side - creates another character entirely, a further attestation to the set design and how creativity isn’t always stifled by a limited budget.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
The use of silence throughout Relic’s tight 89 minute running time is masterful. The creeks of the house and the otherworldly screams from Nevin’s unhinged Edna evoke a certain anguish that runs parallel to the underlying turmoil of Edna’s psyche coming undone.
A horror movie at its truest form as it targets the devastation of our own lives, Relic is as hauntingly beautiful as it is shockingly chilling. It pushes its emotional agenda as much as it intends to operate as a horror movie, further advancing Australia’s ability to create genuinely distressing genre features.