Relic is the feature film debut of writer/director Natalie Erika James, and takes a look at the very real pain of seeing a loved one lose themselves to dementia, told through a deeply disturbing horror lens.
The film begins with Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) travelling to the remote town of Creswick, when Kay’s ageing mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) suddenly disappears from her home. Kay and Sam join in with the police and local residents in their search for Edna in the surrounding woodlands, but no sign of her is found.
READ MORE: 976-EVIL (1988) – Blu-ray Review
Kay does what she can to cope with the sudden vanishing of her mother, and works on clearing up her house, going through all of the things her mother has been hording in her deteriorating state. When Edna suddenly reappears in the house one night Kay and Sam are grateful to have her back, but are still worried about her mental state and physical well being.
The mother and daughter try their hardest to do what’s best for Edna, but find her lapses in memory and sometimes violent mood swings too much to cope with. When Edna starts talking about the strange thing trying to get into her home the two of them chalk it up to her dementia, but strange things begin to happen in the house, and Sam discovers a mysterious mould covered maze of corridors and rooms within the walls of the home. Is this where Edna went missing, and is there something else in there trying to break through?
Relic is a film that relies on dread to get under the skin of its audience, and from its very start builds a sense of unease that never goes away during its run time, culminating in a finale that will leave you feeling disturbed and affected. The very first scenes establish the rules for the movie, relying on slow, lingering shots, a quietly discomfiting musical score, and superbly crafted sound effects to straddle the line between disturbing reality and the world of the paranormal and horrific.
The whole of Relic is like this, confidently walking this line between the mundane and the nightmarish, never allowing the viewer to gain enough information to know what’s going on, but allowing what it does give you to be uncomfortable enough that you never stop feeling on edge.
Based on the content of the film and on background information, this would seem to be intentional on the part of writer/director Natalie Erika James, who is trying to show the horror of watching a loved one slip away due to dementia; something she herself has some personal experience with. The film seems to be trying to put you into both the mindset of having to watch someone you love slip through your fingers, and the emotional toll that would take upon you; as well as having the viewer experience not know what’s going on, and questioning whether everything they experience is real, much like someone going through dementia.
READ MORE: Sleepwalkers (1992) – Blu-ray Review
Because of the way that Relic grapples with the theme of dementia, and the amount or explanation it offers for the events on screen, I came away unsure of what I’d just watched. What I do know is that what I saw didn’t sit right with me. It left me feeling uncomfortable. Which means that it worked as a horror film.
Yes, there were moments that included jump scares, but this isn’t the kind of film that relies on loud bangs to make you feel frightened, nor does it have some kind of monster or foe chasing characters around to make you feel on edge; it relies on a much creepier feeling to get to you, and this makes it an incredibly subtle and affecting film.
Relic is out in cinemas and on Digital HD on 30th October, with previews in Showcase cinemas on 29th October.