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