DIRECTED BY: Natalie Erika James
STARRING: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Chris Bunton, Jeremy Stanford and Steve Rodgers
A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home.
When elderly mother Edna inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay and granddaughter Sam rush to their family’s decaying country home, finding clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. After Edna returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared, Kay’s concern that her mother seems unwilling or unable to say where she’s been clashes with Sam’s unabashed enthusiasm to have her grandma back. As Edna’s behaviour turns increasingly volatile, both begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her.
Relic marks the directorial feature debut of Natalie Erika James, who co-wrote the screenplay with Christian White. When Kay learns that her elderly mother Edna, suffering from dementia, has gone missing, she (and her daughter Sam) travel to the old family home to find her. As they try to find clues in the house in regards to her disappearance, as well as help with the search party, one Edna randomly returns out of the blue. But Kay and Sam will soon learn that there’s something else going on with Edna in this house besides the dementia.
While built as a physiological horror and having a certain amount of unease with a house starting to rot with mould from within, James and White’s script primarily focuses on the horror of losing someone you love bit by bit, even though they are with you physically and it’s in those little details, such as Kay and Sam see evidence of Edna’s mental state deteriorating when they arrive at the house when she’s missing, to the two having a difference in how to handle her deterioration, with Kay looking to put her mother in a care home while Sam wants to move in with her grandmother. Within the confines of a decaying house and banging walls and creaky floors, there’s an atmospheric tension that lingers throughout the films duration, with some really good sound design/mixing here and notably some really good cinematography by Charlie Sarroff.
Even though it shows promise at the start, for me Relic does lose its momentum in the middle, as it just feels like we know how the film is going to end but we’re just stalling for time until we get there and with the film being slow-paced, it does feel like we come to a standstill about an hour in. While it explores dementia and the fear of losing oneself, it did feel like they leaned on that metaphorical aspect a bit too much for the film, especially for the films climax. While the performances from the trio, Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote, were great and I bought into their family dynamic, for me there wasn’t much development given to their characters and felt that the story and the mystery was more important and when you get to the finale you either buy and connect with it completely or you feel like it arrives too late.
Relic has some great performances from Mortimer, Nevin and Heathcote in this ambitious debut from Natalie Erika James. There’s a level of atmospheric unease that is effective, the sound design is really good, but the film is so slow-paced I lost interest.