In Relic, directed by Natalie Erika James and written by James and Christian White, Kay (Emily Mortimer) receives a call from the police that her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) has gone missing which prompts Kay and her grown daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to travel to their remote family home to investigate.
When they arrive, they find the house is full of clutter and mold and certain sections appear to be deteriorating and Post-It Notes are tacked up in every room with reminders like “set the alarm” and others with warnings like “do not follow it.” Kay remarks that Edna is sometimes forgetful but it’s clear the elderly woman is suffering from dementia.
As is the norm with horror films, there are creepy, unexplainable noises everywhere inside the house, a room (in this case, a walk-in closet) with a lock that spells trouble for anyone who enters inside, and one of the characters, Kay, is plagued by spooky dreams. I don’t mean to diminish this film by any means but some of the tropes simply weren’t handled very well, such as, Kay and Sam hear a noise coming from inside a wall in the living room, a loud thud in response to Kay’s knock and something massive is moving up inside the wall seemingly following a large path of mold. So, what do they do? Why they ignore it, of course. Move along, audience, nothing to see here. Now, let’s inspect Kay’s dream:
Kay is following a shadowy figure through the foggy woods and is led to a rundown cabin (wouldn’t be a respectable horror film without a cabin in the woods) and the interior is covered head to toe in mold. A naked, old, decrepit man is sitting on a bed and there are a series of jump cuts of decaying animals with the sound of buzzing flies and falls off the bed and there’s a jump cut to a decayed corpse who opens his pitch-black eyes just as Kay wakes up.
In the morning, Kay is drawn to the kitchen by the whistle of a tea kettle and finds Edna making a cuppa. The family doctor makes a house visit and despite the large black and purple bruise on Edna’s chest, that she can’t explain, the old woman seems to be in good physical health and has her mental faculties about, though she won’t say where she’s been. The doctor recommends that Kay and Sam stay with Edna to monitor her condition. Kay sensibly decides to look for a nursing home for her mother despite Sam’s protestations.
While cleaning the house, Sam finds a sketchbook from her granddad, and in it is a picture of the cabin from Kay’s dream. It turns out the cabin was the first house on the property, occupied by Kay’s great grandfather who died abandoned by his family. The cabin was torn down but the windows were rescued and reused for the house they’re currently staying in.
Edna’s dementia is getting worse. She’s talking to people who aren’t there, remarking about how unfamiliar the house seems, cutting her hand with a knife, throwing violent tantrums, eating photographs, and burying photo albums in the woods to keep those memories safe.
Sam, in the meanwhile, returns to that creepy walk-in closet and discovers it’s deeper than it appears. Past a pile of items in the back is an entire labyrinth of crawl spaces within but when she tries to turn back, she finds herself lost.
And that’s when things really get crazy. And nope, I’m not gonna tell ya what happens next. I’ve said too much already. If you really want to know, go watch the film for yourself.
So, would I recommend Relic? I suppose I would, though, fair warning, if you’re looking for jump-out-of-your-seat scares or cover-your-eyes-and-peek-through-your-fingers gore, you’re barking up the wrong film. Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut is a well-paced slow burn that successfully creates a unsettling atmosphere with superb acting, but if I had my druthers, I would have liked to see the story played straight without the gimmicky tropes that served no actual purpose other than to make it feel like a “horror” film and having Kay and Sam react to the bizarre and unexplainable occurrences happening before their eyes in a more honest and realistic fashion would have sold me even further. Cutting away from terrifying moments without the characters doing a proper investigation just to move the plot along (it happens twice) took me out of the film. Having said that, you could do a lot worse with 90 minutes of your life.
Ciao til next now.