RELIC (2020) is the thinking person’s haunted house movie.
Its tale of a grandmother, her daughter, and granddaughter is on one level a story of a house possessed, but on a deeper more figurative level it’s about dementia personified.
When Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her adult daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) arrive at Kay’s mother’s house to check in on her, they discover that she’s not there. Kay informs the police and tells them that her mother is in her 80s and does tend to forget things sometimes and is easily confused. A search party covers the surrounding woods without success.
But then Kay’s mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) suddenly is back inside the house, and every time Kay asks where she’s been, she changes the subject. Worried that her mom shouldn’t be living alone, Kay looks into elderly home options. Meanwhile, she and Sam stay on to keep an eye on Edna for a while.
Edna complains that there is someone else in the house, and while Kay initially dismisses this assertion as early dementia, things start happening which convince Kay and Sam otherwise.
RELIC is a slow-burn horror movie that scores high on the creepy meter. There are quiet eerie scenes throughout, and for me, this was the best part of this movie.
Sure, it’s a deeper screenplay than most, as written by director Natalie Erika James and Christian White. Its take on dementia is spot-on, and the doubt which Kay and Sam have towards Edna’s fears is believable and normal. So, when later they begin to see things differently, it makes for a scary transition.
Plus, the direction this story ultimately takes is so much better than grandmother really was seeing a ghost! It takes the figurative theme of how we lose everything including ourselves as we age and makes it literal.
RELIC is Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut and it’s an impressive one. The film is creepy throughout, and its ending is sad and horrifying at the same time. You might find yourself having to turn away from the screen.
On the other hand, it is very slow, and so for some viewers they may find themselves bored, but if you’re patient, there is a decent payoff.
The film is reminiscent of THE BABADOOK (2014) in terms of tone and feel.
The three principal actors are all very good. Emily Mortimer makes Kay the detached and often guilt-ridden daughter who kept away from her mother for so long and now towards the end is trying to make things right, although it doesn’t feel that way to her as she looks to put her mother into a home.
Bella Heathcote plays Sam as the devoted granddaughter who is much more enthusiastic about wanting to stay and help her grandmother around the house. And so it is far more upsetting for Sam when her grandmother begins to act in ways that make wanting to stay in the house all rather unpleasant.
And Robyn Nevin delivers the best performance in the movie as Edna, perfectly capturing what it’s like to live with dementia, as her personality switches on a dime. And she has one icy cold stare, that’s for sure!
I liked RELIC. It’s a quiet horror movie that is best watched on a quiet night with the lights out.
Preferably without your grandmother around!