July 7, 2020 Relic (Movie Review)
An unsettling new spin on the haunted house flick, new Drama/Horror blend Relic arrives in select theaters, as well as On Demand, as of Friday, July 10th, 2020, thanks to the impeccable squad at IFC Midnight.
In her eighties, but still fiercely grasping at her independence, Edna (Robyn Nevin: The Castle 1997, The Matrix Revolutions 2003) has gone missing from her decaying country home. Following up on a call from a concerned neighbor, daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer: Mary Poppins Returns 2018, Mary 2019) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote: Dark Shadows 2012, The Neon Demon 2016) race to the home in search of clues as to her whereabouts.
Suffering from a rapidly evolving dementia, Edna eventually does return, but with very little information as to where she had disappeared to. Already unsettled by her suspicious reappearance, the tension rises between the family as both daughter and granddaughter begin to grow uncomfortable the more time that they spend inside the old home. With the discovery of brand new locks on all of the doors, bizarre black stains in random locations, and a loud banging echoing from inside the walls, no one is sleeping well. Furthermore, nothing can prepare them for the creepy experience of discovering a crumpled old post-it note scrawled in gran’s handwriting that proclaims “Don’t follow it!”
Clocking in at 89 minutes, Relic marks a truly stunning feature-length debut for Director Natalie Erika James (Creswick short 2017, Drum Wave short 2018), who co-wrote the screenplay along with Christian White (Coma short 2005, Creswick short 2017). The film also features the acting talents of Chris Bunton (Kairos 2018, Little Monsters 2019), Jeremy Stanford (Silversun series, Winners & Losers series), and more.
Billed as a blend of Drama and Horror, Relic is exactly this. Mirroring the nerve-twisting tension of recent films such as 2016’s The Autopsy of Jane Doe and 2019’s The Hole in the Ground, though mired in metaphor much like 2018’s Hereditary, this is a tale that does exactly what it promises and “crafts an unforgettable new spin on the haunted house movie.” Of course, that comes as little shock as the Australians have always known how to do Horror.
From the outset and the palpable eeriness of its opening scene, Relic sets an active pace that it maintains throughout its run-time. Complemented by a superbly minimalistic score by Brian Reitzell (The Bling Ring 2013, American Gods series) that allows the onscreen action to truly shine—yet helps to keep the hairs on the back of viewers’ necks perpetually at attention—the film has both style and substance. Beautifully bleak and dreary imagery from Cinematographer Charlie Sarroff (Creswick short 2017, American Bistro 2019) sets the mood for a journey that never chooses the cheap or obvious route of its Horror contemporaries.
This success is bolstered by the pillar of power that is Nevin, Mortimer, and Heathcote. Only adding to the creep factor, Nevin dances through the films with an elegance that is always truly disturbing in its ambiguity. A testament to her talents, we are constantly left to wonder if Edna is just a sweet, little old woman who is suffering the loss of her mental faculties or if there is something much more sinister at work?
Toeing that line to provide moviegoers with a two-tiered tale, she establishes a foundation from which Mortimer and Heathcote are able to deliver their characters with success. Opposing forces, Mortimer’s Kay wants to put her mother in a ‘safe place,’ while Heathcote’s Sam prefers to keep gran at home. Separately, the two women offer each side of an endless debate when it comes to geriatric care, but together they find the common denominator of love.
Which isn’t to say that Relic is hugs, kisses, and puppies. Lacking in bright colors, sunshine, and joy, this is a tale of three fiercely strong women, each trapped inside her own quagmire. While the film shares little by way of topic with the aforementioned Ari Aster flick Hereditary, the two share a similar mood. Strong enough to bestow the heebie-jeebies upon its watchers without inspiring a deeper dig, it still offers something more for those that wish to experience a sophisticated, allegorical Horror romp. Nuanced but disturbing, lacking in gore but certainly delivering several skin-crawling moments, Relic is a truly exceptional debut for Director James and a testament to the talents of its leading ladies. For this, Cryptic Rock gives Relic 4.5 of 5 stars.