Kay needs to visit her old family home after receiving the message that her elderly mother Edna has gone missing. Bringing her daughter Sam with her, they both try to find clues which could help them figure out Edna’s whereabouts. Once inside the old country home, they soon find evidence all over the place regarding Edna’s increasing dementia. Post-it notes are found everywhere, with reminders of everyday things. After three days, Edna suddenly appears inside the house like nothing has ever happened, causing both tremendous relief for Kay and Sam, but also increased worry. The old lady’s behavior starts becoming more and more incomprehensible, and it feels like an ominous presence has taken control over her.
This year there have been so many horror movies postponed that was supposed to come to the theaters. So it goes without saying that, while starting the year off with great movies like The Lighthouse, Golden Glove and The Invisible Man, we Horror Ghouls haven’t had many chances to get our horror fix at the big screen for the remainder of the year. Thus, it was a nice surprise to see that our local cinema here in Norway had put up screenings for this Aussie horror flick.
Relic is Natalie Erika James’s debut feature film, and is a psychological horror movie with dementia/Alzheimer’s as the core of its terrifying happenings. The director used her own experiences as inspiration for the movie, as her grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s for years. Upon visiting her in a traditional Japanese house (which she perceived as rather creepy) and for the first time experiencing that her grandmother no longer recognized her, it filled her with feelings of grief, guilt and fear. Which is quite understandable. Alzheimer’s is a terrible condition both to be in, and witness loved ones succumbing to. It doesn’t just make you forget things, it sooner or later makes you forget how to remember…and there is no way back from that. It’s a disease that causes both pain, confusion and fear, to the extent where there are even cases among religious people where family members perceive it as so terribly frightening, that instead of calling the doctor they prepare for an exorcism. Which is just…incredibly sad, if you think about it. And Relic does an excellent job on portraying the feelings of hopelessness and creeping dread.
Already from the start of the movie, where you witness an eerie scene with an overflowing bathtub with water running down to the steps below, only to meet Edna naked with only a towel covering the front of her body while looking anxiously inside the dark living room, we know this movie is going to play heavily on atmosphere. And in that regard, I think the choice of surroundings are perfect, with Edna’s typical country home which has gotten a bit run down, and the glimpses we see of an old shack which used to be there in the past. It is a bit of a slow-burner and it doesn’t rush in telling you its tale, but it keeps your interest up by feeding you eerie details, chilling atmosphere and compelling visuals.
For those unfortunate enough to have personal experience with the dreadful disease, the movie’s metaphors will be quite clear, and some of them are pretty cleverly made. Having knowledge of and/or a certain investment in the disease will, in all likelihood, heighten your experience with this film. If you view the film by taking everything that happens literally, without understanding the rather discernible metaphors, you will miss out on the true horror laying beneath the layers.
Director: Natalie Erika James
Country & year: Australia | USA, 2020
Actors: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Steve Rodgers, Chris Bunton, Robin Northover, Catherine Glavicic, Christina O’Neill, John Browning, Jeremy Stanford