Film Review – Relic
Like so many films, Relic released to streaming on Friday, rather than a theatrical release. This is my first film review since the virus pandemic started. Streaming a film that is meant to be on the big screen in a dark room, especially with the horror genre, leaves little to be desired, especially when you don’t have the greatest setup.
Relic is a film that is almost made for our current times, taking place in a remote, private area outside of Melbourne, Australia. Isolation is a double-edged sword; you can relish in the seclusion, but at times the loneliness can have negative effects on the psyche. Edna (or Mom or Gran, played by Robyn Nevin) lives in the large, family house. With her daughter grown and her husband passed, she is left mostly to her own devices. When the neighbor notifies the daughter, Kay (Emily Mortimer), that he hasn’t seen Edna for a while, Kay drives with her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), to investigate the situation and check up on her mom. While her mom is indeed nowhere to be found, there is at least one previous instance of a possible case of dementia that is the lead in for the film.
It is not a spoiler to say that Edna shows back up, mysteriously, like she was just gone for a few days on a walk. There wouldn’t be much of a film if she never came back. Her quizzical comments, breaks with reality, and just purely odd behavior fuels the fire of the plot. Her references to a man following her, being present in the house, and, the most frightening, under her bed. Edna has added extra locks around the house due to this man, and she believes he originated from a closet.
Relic is female-centric, dealing with three generations of women, but also written and directed by Natalie Erika James with a co-writer credit to Christian White. The film deals with strained relationships between all three women, and the degradation of the matriarch, which wreaks havoc on all three. When an outside force is thrown into the mix, the stress of not knowing what is happening further strains their relationships. I felt the strong female characters brought more to the story than if they happened to be men, and having a woman behind the camera and driving the story did wonders for empathizing with Kay and Sam.
There is a long-lost familial tragedy that plays a part on the current happenings of this family. Kay’s great-grandparents bought the land that house sits on, and there was originally a small cabin on the land which these great-grandparents lived in. Long since demolished, the tragedy of her great-grandfather continues to haunt the family, visiting Kay in her dreams. The land that the cabin sat on still bears some significance as no trees have grown there, and Edna still feels a pull to whatever presence the site may hold. The windows, especially the stained-glass one that was on the cabin’s door, hold a special significance, and were used in the “new” house’s construction. That stained-glass window is on the main door to the house, and features prominently throughout the film.
There is much more to discuss about Relic, but it is too spoilery to mention in a review. I wish I could discuss with others what they thought was happening in the last third of the film because I have questions and comments. There is always the thought at the back of my head if I am seeing or interpreting Relic as others have. Let me at least say that the last third of the film gets weird and claustrophobic, maybe not the best combination in a pandemic. There are a few horror elements to satisfy the horror junkies, and one major “WTF” moment to question if you are seeing things correctly. The end of Relic does re-emphasize that it all goes back to a familial element, and a past wrong is still trying to right itself, even at the demise of others.