IFC MIDNIGHT (2020)
Director: Natalie Erika James
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, Robyn Nevin
Spiders. Snakes. Mould.
Australian horror has long been on a roll delivering tense, atmospheric and damn good horror movies so my hopes were high for Relic – the debut offering from director Natalie Erika James. It centres around three generations of women who are reunited back home in Victoria after Edna (Nevin) – the matriarch suffering with dementia – goes missing but reappears under mysterious circumstances days later along with a malignant, unseen presence that has seemingly taken residence in the walls of their decaying old home.
Slow, unwavering and absolutely smothered in a thick atmosphere of dread, Relic is a gruelling depiction of the effects of dementia on the sufferer and their loved ones combined with more traditional horror tropes – things go bump in the night, a mysterious mould manifests throughout the house, gory flashbacks. It’s the human element that takes precedence, however, and James does a great job of establishing the varying relationships between the three women and how these change throughout the movie. Emily Mortimer’s Kay has neglected her mother’s health for varying reasons and struggles to reconnect with Edna and her daughter Sam (Heathcote) who seems far more willing to stay and support her grandmother. As Edna, Nevin has a terrifying presence that unnervingly grips you from the moment she appears on screen, it’s in the eyes and scowl, the silence she exudes for the majority of the movie adding to the suffocating atmosphere. The family drama and the psychological tension it brings ensures that when the more conventional horror aspects come into play, Relic remains eerily compelling. Alongside the human drama lies a demonic angle (or so we believe) that allows James to play with some real scares and opens the floor for discussion on whether this is a deep allegory for dementia or a supernatural horror (I know where I stand)
It’s easy to compare Relic to fellow Aussie flick The Babadook and Hereditary for their familial horror and each having a female at the centre of their respective movies and there is an undeniable sense that the three could be connected in another world. The rundown location of the movie certainly befits The Babadook more but the atmosphere closely resembles that of Hereditary – but this isn’t a carbon copy of either. The sound design is excellent as every scrape and rumble will resonate to your core and the accompanying score compliments each scene wonderfully.
By the time we get to the breathtakingly bold conclusion, the genuinely unsettling authenticity of Relic sets up the ‘reveal’ well, if not slightly clumsily in terms of tone – as mentioned, the supernatural and real world horrors don’t always blend seamlessly – however, what it does is allow for further, deeper conversation into what it all means. Again, the obvious allegory that the movie is dealing with ensures that the finale is emotionally charged and, frankly, pretty powerful.
Relic is another fine horror drama from Down Under that successfully crawls under the skin and leaves an impression. The raw authenticity of the subject matter coupled with an omnipresent dread marks Relic as a highly effective and striking effort from a very promising director.
July 13th 2020