Relic Review: A Genetically Rotten and Disquieting Masterwork

Relic is the type of horror film that shouldn’t necessarily be considered psychological, but is more contemplative. The film wants to make you think more than it wants to mess with your head.

It’s this slow trickle of diseased water spread out over 89-minutes; a leaky faucet, barely a drip that gradually escalates into a stream of water on full blast.

It may have leakage dripping and spraying out the sides, but it embraces those flaws and encompasses them into an all too meaningful purpose and reasoning for its horrific roots.

Co-written and directed from first time feature film director Natalie Erika James, Relic begins with mother and daughter characters Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote) checking on their mother/grandmother Edna (Robyn Nevin). Kay and Sam are located in a more urban area while Edna’s home is considered more rural.

Edna has somehow disappeared within the walls of her own home. Kay and Sam investigate Edna’s home to no avail and even call the local authorities to help search for her.

When all leads end up going nowhere, Edna miraculously turns up one morning without any recollection of where she’s been. The mystery regarding Edna’s whereabouts takes a backseat to the infectious terror that she brings back with her.

Natalie Erika James chooses to explore the ugliness and the nightmarish tendencies found within the deteriorating walls of dementia throughout Relic. It’s this disease that alters its host changing them into someone neither themselves nor their loved ones are able to recognize. But its murky roots run much deeper than that since dementia is often hereditary.

Emily Mortimer as Kay.

Relic is a film that revolves around a horror that cannot be vanquished despite the best efforts of its all-female main cast. This is a physical manifestation of dread that eats at you from the inside out without any form of remedy or savior to conquer.

Relic dives into the idea of death being this sweet release from a fate of living with something so toxic. Dementia is this cancerous cockroach that is able to survive an atomic bomb.

The film impresses since it’s able to persevere not only first time director woes, but also common horror film clichés. Often times horror films introduce a concept with a ton of potential, but that concept crumbles over the film’s duration. That big reveal is usually nowhere near as good as being left to our own imagination.

Relic only gets stronger in its second half allowing that dementia aspect to fully take hold of the storyline, the visuals, and essentially what each of the main characters goes through until those end credits roll.

Edna’s house seems to represent what’s also happening to her body throughout the film. What appears to be mold on walls could be a bruising or a deterioration of that which protects us from vulnerabilities. The knocking is a last ditch effort of those characters attempting to contact and interact with what’s actually occurring in reality.

Bella Heathcote as Sam.

Claustrophobia sets in as walls close off rooms that on-screen characters seemingly just came from while entrapping the audience in tight spaces that were more open moments prior. Kay and Sam get lost within Edna’s home much like she probably did at the beginning of the film.

The film introduces struggling with trying to do what’s best for a loved one with dementia. What’s in a grandmother’s best interest may not be the least practical thing to do or what’s most convenient for her daughter or granddaughter. Kay thinks that putting Edna in a nursing home would benefit Edna’s condition while Sam is willing to move in with Edna so Edna can hang onto that sense of independence a bit longer.

Family history is also a key component of Relic that could be a metaphor for a darker reasoning. While staying at Edna’s, Kay is plagued with the same dream that evolves over several nights.

Edna’s home is built from the remnants of houses from their ancestors; a stained glass window has pretty much survived generations totally unscathed. Kay dreams about that window and the house Edna’s house came from being covered with dirt and her mother falling out of bed to the floor while becoming this black, shriveled, and used up vessel of her former self.

Robyn Nevin as Edna.

The eating of photographs and the burial of a photo album in the middle of a forest is like emptying the recycle bin on your computer’s desktop. Dementia makes you forget who you are, who you’ve been, and who your loved ones are. There’s this constant worry over their well-being and their whereabouts even though you can’t remember their faces or their names.

Relic is this maddening labyrinth of a horror film. It begins as a harmful itch, turns into a worrisome series of scratches, and fully evolves into this crippling and debilitating disease; all within the confines of an hour and a half.

Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote are all extraordinary in their performances as the film is this gloriously unnerving triumph of an all-female cast.

The Verdict

Relic peels away the idea of who we were and replaces it with this soiled, withered, and pathetic version of our former self. The idea of something being so inescapable because of what is in our blood, our bones, and our genes is terrifying in itself and Relic dances around that fright with tremendous grace.

Relic is now playing at drive-in theaters and select theaters (that are actually open right now) across the country. It is currently available on most digital/streaming/VOD services for $5.99 or $6.99.

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