Few things are as painful as seeing a loved one slowly spiral into a shell of what they once were. For some time now, that spiral has been happening to Edna (Robyn Nevin), an elderly woman living alone in the countryside. Her closest family, daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote) arrive when notified by law enforcement that Edna’s gone missing.
In Edna’s home, the two find troubling signs of Edna’s mental state. Finding her would seem to be a pipe dream…until Edna shows up one morning like nothing happened. Sam is overjoyed, while Kay is uneasy. Edna gives nothing on where she has been, but it is evident she’s not quite right. Could it be something in the house, full of a dark and difficult past, that is affecting Edna? Or is this all induced by natural causes?
With everything going on, it feels as if it has been a real minute since there was a steady conversation around a movie, even as so many have been quarantined. Might the movie to change things be Relic? The VOD release could help matters in that arena or hurt them. Hopefully, it is the former—there’s a lot here worth talking about in a group.
Sometimes it’s not about how you finish, but how you start. New feature director Natalie Erika James starts strong by shooting a mysterious opening sequence, truly baring it all and setting the stage for what most of the runtime consists of, which is a perpetual feeling of not necessarily straight scares (more on this in a second) but intrigue. Visually, it would be easy for a movie predominantly taking place in one location to look the same, but the varied lighting James uses along with nifty, yet patient camerawork creates consistent unease alongside a quietly strong score by composer Brian Reitzell. An impressive production on an indie budget.
While the setup and framing are undoubtedly horror, Relic positions itself equally as a drama and really, that is where it is most effective as a movie. Think a little like Hereditary, without the esoteric elements. James and co-writer Christian White concoct a story dealing with the unfortunate and debilitating realities of getting old, the loneliness elderly ones can experience once their mental faculties decline, and the grief/self-blame immediate family members may be exposed to when it’s clear that the situation is beyond reversing the ill effects.
While this is the essence of Relic’s story and it certainly suggests that much of what goes down is the result of a failing mind, there’s enough introduced to make the counter-argument that something is wrong with the home these three ladies inhabit. There is a bit of talk of one or two things that went down within it, but by and large, little attention is given to the specifics on “where the line begins for one person and ends for another.” It is very possible that that could be the point, with everything being blurry when you’re talking dementia and dealing firsthand with it. If so, smart writing, but I could not shake the idea that Relic could have been told as strong—if not stronger—without the horror slant. Still, it doesn’t take away from a beautifully uncomfortable final scene that literally and figuratively deals with the concept of layers and the hereditary bonds that forever make up a family.
The film revolves around three actresses playing a frayed family unit. Long story short, if their performances were not believable, Relic wouldn’t be as sound as it is. The standout is Nevin as Edna, every bit as real as someone steadily losing their grip on reality with minimal support to boot. Heathcote perfectly captures that initial buzz of just being so happy and blissful towards a situation without looking at the how until it is too late, and Mortimer sees a true, emotional character arc that comes to a head with the aforementioned final scene.
Using three compelling performances and a confident visual hand, debut director James makes an impact with Relic. It is the type of movie that makes a viewer more excited to see what she does outside of the horror genre as opposed to within it.
Photo credits go to impawards.com, newsbaar.com, comingsoon.net, and natalieerikajames.com.
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