We’re currently experiencing one of the scariest periods in human history. All those films you’ve previously devoured that explored themes of plague, panic, and the apocalypse from the comfort of the cinema or your own couch are now happening all around us.
As I write this review, I’m sat in my Melbourne apartment in Australia and we’ve gone back into lockdown. We’re to stay indoors. Masks should be worn if we go out. Coronavirus numbers are hitting 200+ daily. These are genuinely scary times and I hope you’re all safe and well.
As horror fans, we escape into horror for many reasons, the main of which is we simply enjoy the genre. It’s part of who we are. I love a good slasher, I enjoy horrors that are “so bad, they’re good”, and I like it when horror is twisted on its head and makes you think.
Relic falls into this latter category. We’ve been starved of good, new horror for a while due to the pandemic and I’ve waited for this Australian horror with bated breath.
Relic concerns the disappearance of an elderly woman, Edna (Robyn Nevin) whose daughter, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote) abandon their lives to join the police search for her in the woods that span her sprawling yet isolated property. Upon returning home days later as if nothing has happened, Kay and Sam soon realise that Edna is not herself and worry about her talk of someone coming into the house. Due to her old age and her memory not being what it was, her worries and concerns are dismissed. But littered with ever more threatening post-it notes to remind Edna not to follow “it”, Kay and Sam soon find themselves fighting a sinister presence that threatens to tear the family apart.
The film focuses on three female generations of a family who work through their relationship with themselves and each other in their family home that is literally closing in on them. All three performances are excellent with Mortimer perfectly portraying the pain of a daughter who is lost to her own mother and Nevin is creepily perfect with her disturbing hobby of carving beautiful yet somehow ghastly candles. A similar creepiness to Toni Collette crafting tiny doll furniture in Hereditary.
The house itself is the fourth member of the family: narrow hallways, mould on the walls, clutter in every corner, an overgrown tennis court. You feel neglect, suffocation, and despair seeping from every surface and claustrophobia soon takes hold. Flashback dreams to a dark period of Kay’s childhood further add to the dread and tension that something truly terrible is watching and waiting.
Director, Natalie Erika James worked with Leigh Whannell on Upgrade and he tweeted his support of her talent and this film. And he was right to do so. Not a single frame is wasted in Relic. Having also co-written the script, James clearly knows exactly how much dread to bring to every scene, perfectly balancing each shot with a foreboding soundtrack that has every cell in your body on edge.
My eyes devoured every detail to find all the hidden nuances, which can easily be missed if you’re not completely invested, so my tip is to put your phone down and give this film your undivided attention – similar to the experience of watching The Haunting of Hill House.
Although an Australian made film, the setting could’ve been anywhere in the world as the themes are universal and the characters are all of us. As I currently live in Melbourne, I did give a little squeal when there is a glimpse of our impressive skyline. And I love Australian horror as they rarely get it wrong, with The Loved Ones and The Babadook in my top ten favourite horrors of all time.
I don’t want to give away too much of the storyline so I will not confirm whether Relic is about a haunted house, a person possessed, or whatever else your mind is conjuring. What I will say is that this film is dark. It’s deep. It explores avenues all too close to home. Exploring circumstances that could hit any of us at any time. The symbolism and metaphorical use to describe something all too human is truly terrifying, yet Relic is a beautiful story of what it really means to be human. And there are a couple of truly gross, messed up moments to please the most avid horror fan.
Overall, Relic is a murky journey into the canals of human nature, relationships, love, and health. You will leave the film feeling different. Enlightened but with a darkening stain on your soul.
We may be living in the darkest times of our lives right now, but Relic will remind you that life is for living, love is for giving, and horror really is the place to call home.
By Cat Dunn
Relic is available to stream now on Shudder
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