In DVD/Blu-ray by Alex Moss Editor

Given the horror-show that was 2020 it’s hardly surprising to see the year gave us some genuinely great horror films. Films such as Saint Maud and Possessor were hugely celebrated and made a number of best of lists for the year. Relic is one such film that managed to grab a wider audience with mainstream releases lurking in the Covid shadow. And it’s a damn good thing too because Relic is a delicate, creepy and powerful film that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

When grandmother Edna (Robyn Nevin) disappears her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) head to the rundown family home to see what is going on. What they discover is a house in the grips of dementia and haunted by something malevolent that wants to claim Edna for its own.

Relic is a true potboiler of a film. The pacing is intentionally lethargic before rising to a terrifying crescendo in the final act. Co-writer and director Natalie Erika James conjures an atmosphere of decay, a rotting, mouldy house that perfectly reflects the analogy of losing one’s identity.

Edna’s home is cluttered with her past. Photo albums are stacked high, trinkets and a back catalogue of her life strewn around and piled high creating a labyrinth that echoes that of her failing memory. If you want to watch Relic as a straight-up horror, this is going to more than tick your fear boxes. If you want to watch it as a way older generations fade and are mistreated by the ones succeeding them it’s a haunting commentary.

Where Relic really excels is in refusing to conform to any obvious jump-scares. This is more akin to Rosemary’s Baby – a Rosemary’s Grandmother if you will – a film that sucks you into its dark existence and lets you sit comfortably until it’s ready to show its true colours. And when it does, it’s staggering. Fans of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House Of Leaves will feel a familiar sense of dread in the final third as Edna’s home begins to show its hidden mysteries.

The performances are all solid in bringing the story to haunting life. Heathcote carries the caring Sam with a sense of trepidation while Nevin manages to portray someone with dementia with unnerving accuracy. But it is Mortimer who manages to be the most magnetic presence on screen. Her Kay is deeply conflicted, part wanting to wash her hands of responsibility for her mother, part wanting what is best for her. It is her generation the message of the film will resonate loudest with.

A deeply unsettling, hugely rewarding chiller-thriller, Relic is a film rich in shudders and heartbreaking emotions. 

Signature Entertainment presents Relic on Digital HD 8 January and Blu-ray & DVD 18 January 2021


In Films by Samuel Love

It seems like waiting for an innovative and memorable horror film in 2020 is like waiting for a bus. Nothing for ages, then two come along at once! Yes, after the phenomenal Saint Maud earlier in October, we now have another film – all the way from Australia – competing to steal the title of this year’s number one Halloween must-watch. Beware, minor spoilers may lurk in the shadows of this review…

Written and directed by Natalie Erika James, Relic is a haunting tale of a family dealing with the strain of an illness that threatens to tear them apart. The story revolves around a physically and mentally deteriorating matriarch, Edna (Robyn Nevin), and her daughter (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter (Bella Heathcote) investigating her sudden disappearance. What follows is a slow, meditative horror film that gets under your skin through its eerie sound design and darkness-filled frames; your eyes darting around checking every corner to make sure nothing is waiting to pounce.

The disturbing atmosphere of the film – elevated by the film’s nightmare sequences that have Mortimer’s Kay plagued by memories of her grandfather who died alone in the woods – is stunningly executed, creating a viewing experience that is intensely uncomfortable. The film’s use of silence is just as effective as the mysterious sounds of the house, and harks back to A Quiet Place in that long scenes go by before you remember to breathe. Almost the duration of the film takes place within the mould-infested family home, and as Relic goes by you begin to find yourself feeling trapped within its walls.

The trio of performances at the centre of the film are stunning, with Robyn Nevin especially delivering an awards-calibre performance as the tortured matriarch refusing to accept her illness through something between pride and delusion. Anyone who has ever had the pain of witnessing a loved one go through something like this will totally relate to the film, specifically Mortimer’s character who must deal with the grief of saying goodbye to her mother as she knew her.

In a similar vein to another acclaimed Aussie horror The Babadook, Relic’s true power lies in its complex handling of its themes that transform it into something allegorical. The film is a hauntingly poignant study of mental and physical deterioration, and the strain that kind of illness can put on a family. Unusual for horror, the film doesn’t end with a bang or a scare but a quiet whimper of pain and acceptance, and the lasting feeling of Relic is not one of horror. 

Although the film will certainly stay with you long after the credits roll, this is not a film that will haunt your nightmares – director/writer James said their attempt with the film was to “sum up the essence of the experience [of death and decline] emotionally”, and hoped that it would help people process the experience in new ways. Relic is a horror film that replaces jump-scares with emotional complexity, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful allegorical experience.