Cinema Review: Relic | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, August 15th, 2020  


Studio: IFC Films
Directed by Natalie Erika James

Jul 07, 2020 Web Exclusive
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The destructive effects of dementia stretch across 3 generations of women in this uniquely terrifying horror film.

“We’re all busy people, we can’t spend our time simply trying to stay in touch. The test… is if it can weather these inevitable gaps”. – William Boyd, Any Human Heart

As we age we seem to gravitate towards loneliness and seclusion. Lives drift apart for no other reason than life is lived. Relationships break down. It’s been “a few weeks” since Kay last spoke to her mother, Edna, who hasn’t been seen for over a week. Kay has arrived at her mum’s secluded woodland home along with her daughter Sam. The house is like every other person’s house over a certain age – cluttered with things accumulated over a lifetime. Memories. Indents on the carpet. Dotted around are post-it notes used as reminders…but some of them have an ominous tone. It seems rotten and mould-ridden. It feels off.

This unsettling tone is continued by director Natalie Erika James’s rhythmic feel for sound effects and Brian Reitzell’s heavy score. The visuals are drained of any life. Christmas lights, woodland trees, an overgrown tennis court and a swimming pool covered with leaves are all sapped of their colour. What was once beautiful is now lifeless. Australia has never looked so moody.

Edna returns as mysteriously as she’d disappeared, turning up dishevelled in the kitchen making a pot of tea. Kay’s concerns are dismissed in that flippant way parents do.

Theirs is clearly a strained relationship, in the way so many of us struggle with our own parents as we grow older. Do we drift further apart when neither of us need looking after? Or do we see ourselves in them and turn away?

Even Kay’s daughter Sam refers to her by her name, as opposed to using ‘mum’. She does however affectionately call her grandmother ‘gran’. Quite often the job of a mother is to shield their children from their own parents’ frailties and indiscretions. At least until they’re old enough to better understand. But this can be draining.

As her grandmother’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic, Sam starts to share her mother’s concerns and becomes briefly hopeful that she can help solve the problems that stalk her grandmother. Kay however, is wearier, haunted by nightmares of her family’s dark history. And though these visions make up the weakest part of the story, they play their part in linking the minds’ deterioration to the rotting house, temporarily inhabited by these three generations.

Here the women become overwhelmed, wandering an ever-changing labyrinthine series of halls and corridors that serve as a powerful allegory for the way in which dementia sets in. The confusion and claustrophobia when you no longer recognise the people, places or things around you. As Sam becomes more disorientated, Kay finds herself drawn closer to her mother, finding her in the woods trying to rid herself of old memories.

“I just want to bury it so it can’t get at me… I’m losing everything, Kay.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t here more.”

As Edna, Robyn Nevin is phenomenal in a demanding performance that sees her flit between moments of clarity, frustration, anger, confusion and genuine terror, able to capture many of these within seconds of one another.  Emily Mortimer is fantastic too as a conflicted mum, caught out by her mother’s rapid decline from an unforgiving condition. What Relic does so brilliantly is demonstrate not just the frightening, confusing effects of dementia, but also the toll it takes on those tasked with looking after those suffering. It’s what makes the ending a surprisingly tender, emotional affair. Relic is a stand-out horror film that tackles an unimaginably difficult condition with the terrifying seriousness it deserves.

Author rating: 8.5/10

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