Relic – The destructive and irreversible terror of dementia

Relic is showing at BFI London Film Festival 9th – 12th October and FrightFest 24th October

The most powerful horror often comes from a reflection of the human experience. Whether that be discussions on racism (Get Out) or the power of grief and loss (The Babadook). However, the horror of dementia and its creeping pain and isolation has primarily remained outside of the genre. But, with her bold debut feature Relic, Natalie Erika James, couples the psychological fear of dementia, with supernatural inspired horror. In turn, creating a stunning debut feature, full of unease, mystery and moments of devastating emotion. The classic terror of the Haunted House, transformed into an internal struggle to remember the very foundations of life. At the same time, as those around you debate their place and purpose in offering support.

Relic opens against the backdrop of twinkling Christmas lights, as water pours from an overflowing bath. An elderly woman (Robyn Nevin) staring at her Christmas tree, while water gathers around her feet. A sense of foreboding disaster surrounding the short prelude, before we cut to her daughter in Melbourne receiving an ominous phone call weeks later.

Kay (Emily Mortimer) picks up the phone, only to be informed her elderly mother has been missing for days. The mystery of Edna’s disappearance taking mother and daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) out to her mother’s rural house. But, when Kay’s mother suddenly reappears days later, her memory muddled, the house takes on a much darker tone. Both mother, daughter and granddaughter wrapped in a mystery as a veil of darkness descends. The house a box of memories for all three women, their future paths tied to the bonds of love they hold, as the house slowly folds in on them.

Just like the disease at its heart, Relic sits within a void of time, the days passing in a blur of confusion. While at the same time, the family descend into a pit of despair. Their love for one another tested as Edna, and the house she treasures, creeks and cracks under the pressure of a deadly invader.

Now at this point, you may be wondering whether Relic is more social drama than horror. But, make no mistake; this is a movie that is built upon solid psychological and supernatural horror foundations. With Natalie Erika James drawing upon the filmmaking style of Polanski, Cronenberg and Aster. The nerve-shredding use of the old house, with its mould covered walls enhanced by the cinematography of Charlie Sarroff. His delicate use of colour, light and shadow only adding to a sense of foreboding. His treatment of the house, ensuring it becomes a character within its own right—the rooms, grounds and walls reflecting Edna’s journey into darkness.

However, the real horror in Relic comes from the destructive and irreversible terror of dementia. The heartbreaking realisation that someone close is drifting away, dovetailed with the fear of the carer. Their life suddenly and abruptly changed as they try to decide on the right course of action. With the film’s conclusion, harrowing, daring and poignant, as choices of care, love and attachment break through the terror. Indeed, for all those viewers who believe in the power of horror movies to reflect the deepest, darkest experiences of human life, Relic does not disappoint. And while some may struggle with the ambiguity of its conclusion. Natalie Erika James has clearly announced her arrival as an exciting new force in filmmaking.

Director: Natalie Erika James

Cast: Emily MortimerRobyn NevinBella Heathcote 

Relic is released nationwide from the 30th October 2020

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