Aging is inevitable. It comes for us all. When framed as a horror device, it can look like a vengeful spirit lurking in our lives, haunting our dreams and our hallways. First time feature film director Natalie Erika James aims to show us exactly that, and succeeds.
When Kay (Emily Mortimer) is informed by the police that her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) hasn’t been seen in a while, she hits the road with her own daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), to her mother’s country home. Upon arrival, expecting to find a body, they find the house empty. Various post it notes around the house make it obvious that Edna’s memory is failing, “turn off faucet” being an example of the more benign and “don’t follow it” among the most sinister. And as it turns out there are more sinister forces at work. As the women wait in the house they experience odd happenings in the house and strange noises coming from the walls.
For the next few night Kay dreams of a rotting house, catching glimpses of her mother and decaying corpses. One morning Edna inexplicably shows up, making tea. It’s obvious she is in poor mental health and cannot account for her whereabouts. The days become difficult as Kay comes to grips that she may not be able to take care of her mother. As Edna’s behavior continues to become more aggressive the house itself becomes a dangerous place. An echo of Edna’s own deteriorating mind. First it might be a shadow on the wall or a few bumps in the night, but soon devolving into a maze of decay and rot.
There is nothing more terrifying then losing one’s own identity. What happens when you don’t remember your family members? The ravaging monster shows no mercy, devouring memories and infecting everyone around you.
Mortimer shines as a daughter trying to be there for her ailing mother. She has dreams that the same dementia that is gripping her mother is also slowly infecting her, inevitably coming to consume her mind.
You could say it’s a slow burn, but at a scant 89-minute run time, the scares and the oddities come fast and a plenty. Much in the fashion of The Babadook and Hereditary this becomes allegorical of mental health as it relates to maternity. This sub-genre that is somewhat horror adjacent can only be done so many times without it feeling like a copy of a copy. Relic is able to find its own footing though thanks to a standout performance from Emily Mortimer and its divisive ending. The tight script, courtesy of director James and Christian White doesn’t waste time on frills or unnecessary scares. If you can stomach some pretty toe curling prosthetics you will probably enjoy yourself well enough.
3 out of 5