Monday 18 January 2021

RELIC review

When her elderly mother is reported missing, Kay and her daughter Sam (Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote) go looking for her at the old family home, finding it empty and in a state of disarray. When Edna (Robyn Nevin) re-appears a couple of days later, seemingly fit, healthy and full of life, she can't recall where she's been or why she left home. Staying to care for her for a few days, Kay and Sam start to hear and see strange things around the house that may offer clues to what is really going on.

At the centre of Relic is three excellent performances from from the three central women. Emily Mortimer, with what to my ear sounds like a pretty spot on Aussie accent, really expresses Kay's resentment towards her mother and her condition, and her own guilt for feeling it. Bella Heathcote's Sam shows a more innocent, possibly naive belief that all will be well and how it used to be when she was younger, not understanding that her grandmother is not quite the same woman as she used to be. As Edna, a fragile, sometimes cantankerous ageing matriarch, Robyn Nevin taps into the character's confusion and despair at the changing of her life, her memory switching from hazy to sharp, almost like she's looking through the different coloured panes in the stained glass window that adorns her front door. The feature debut of Natalie Erika James, this Australian chiller has its fair share of unsettling sights to see, but is also surprising in how tender and moving it can be. The recent high benchmark for disturbing familial horrors is undoubtedly Ari Aster's Hereditary, and although Relic is a very different story at heart and without the overall shock/gore factor of that film, there's a similarly foreboding tone that builds throughout until it envelopes this family and their home.

As Edna increasingly loses her foothold on her life and memories and begins muttering to herself (or someone we can't see) as she carries out her favourite pastime of candle carving (creepy AND gothic), there's a generational divide between Kay and Sam as to what the best course of action is. Whereas Sam is readying herself to upend her life and move in with Edna, Kay is researching care homes, having already put her work life on hold to come look for her. It's here that the film digs into the real human drama that audiences may be able to relate to, having to reckon with that feeling of going into a place or seeing a person you once knew, albeit now in a different state, tapping into fears of our own mortality and of how we might be cared for in our old age.

Instead of loud jump scares and grisly shock tactics to gross you out (aside from the finale which does considerably up the ante in this respect), Relic opts to create its scariest moments by using the creepy, crowded corridors of the house to its advantage, showing glimpses of objects and people in the shadows that reward repeat viewings. Horror fans expecting a Hereditary or Insidious may feel disappointed in the relative lack of truly chilling set-pieces, but this is clearly something that Natalie Erika James and co-writer Christian White were never aiming for, instead crafting a story with a deeper emotional connection to its audience.

As the three generations of women delve deeper into the increasingly rotten core of the house in the final act, the film not only provides a climactic resolution to the horror side of the story, but also a surprisingly touching reflection on ageing, dementia, loss and grief. It's in this area that the film had the potential to be heavy handed or even manipulative of its audience, but thankfully is well handled by James and gives Relic an emotional, visually beautiful and extremely effective conclusion. 



Signature Entertainment presents Relic on Digital HD now and Blu-ray & DVD 18 January 2021.

Blu-ray and iTunes Special Features include:

- London Film Festival 2020 Q&A with Natalie Erika James and Michael Blyth

- Interviews

- Relic shoot time-lapse

- Behind the scenes - "Lost" & "Stunts"


  1. Nice review. This movie really built up a strange sense of dread coupled with piquing my interest with a somewhat mysterious feel for the most part. The acting was well done too. Good movie, but one thing I thought of is that it'd have been better to have gone deeper into the back story between the awkward grandmother and daughter relationship.

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