Edna (Robyn Nevin) has not been acting like herself lately. In the new Australian horror movie Relic, we open on Edna or Gran as her family calls her, standing nude in the living room in the middle of the night. Mesmerized by the twinkling Christmas lights on her tree, she has totally forgotten that the bath is running upstairs. And what is that amorphous shadow lingering in the corner? With a slow-burn approach, Relic explores the connection between three generations of women in the face of a painful, often frightening prospect of aging, dementia, and the process of seeing your loved one succumb to disease. All of this told through the lens of a ghost story. Or is it a ghost story?
After Gran disappears again, the local police call her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) who, along with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) drives in from Melbourne to see if they can find their missing matriarch. After a day of searching her expansive home, and fearing the worst around every corner, they decide to stay over to hold vigil. One morning they find Gran putting on a kettle for tea in the kitchen. She has no recollection of where she was and won’t even talk about it. Kay yells at her mother for not disclosing where she was, and an instant alliance is formed between Gran and the younger Sam. This recovery is short-lived though as Gran begins having more aggressive moments of disorientation. That is followed by the discovery of a hidden hallway in the house that has been obscured from view by piles of clutter and a frightening thumping coming from above the fireplace.
As the three women grapple with the ensuing descent into madness, secrets are revealed that continue to provoke uncertainty as to what is real or imagined. Yes, it is one of those, but Director and co-writer, Natalie Erika James, plays things with a certain elegance that most in this particular sub-genre is missing. Compassion, above all else, is maintained as Kay and Sam watch in horror as Gran transforms before their eyes into a monster they barely recognize. I would admit, though, that with the litany of slow tracking shots and lingering mystery, I found myself growing a bit impatient for the action to kick in. It does, but it takes its sweet time.
As much a drama as it is a horror film, Relic pairs the action down to three strong female leads and a few supporting characters here and there to break up the action. This is a smart move as we get to see Nevin, Mortimer, and Heathcoat really work to develop their believable history together as a family with history.
I found Relic to be a film worth your time to watch despite minor misgivings because it is actually an interesting horror film with more on its mind than a simple build to a climax. This is a poignant observation on aging and death that is supported by a trio of knockout performances and a female-heavy production.
7 out of 10 stars
RELIC WILL OPEN ON JULY 10 IN THEATERS AND ON VOD/DIGITAL RENTAL
Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.