Relic (2020)

Director: Natalie Erika James
Writer: Natalie Erika James, Christian White
Cast: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jeremy Stanford, Chris Bunton
Part of: SLASH Filmfestival
Seen on: 17.9.2020

Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) make their way to Kay’s mother’s Edna (Robyn Nevin) house. They haven’t been able to reach her for a while and knowing that her memory isn’t what it used to be, they are very worried. And for good reason: Edna is missing. Fortunately, she returns after a few days but she can’t say where she has been. Instead she keeps mentioning that somebody is trying to get into the house. And soon Sam and Kay realize that there is something weird going on indeed.

Relic is a beautiful allegory on dementia and how it affects the entire family. Even though it is not to be taken literally, it is very realistic in that portrayal, reaching a touching emotional truth that is rare.

The film poster showing Edna (Robyn Nevin), Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote) standing like a family portrait. Black mold is in the corner of the picture.

I am pretty sure that James has/had a family member with dementia – her portrayal of the family dynamics feels utterly personal and held up by experience. I think that is also why she eschews the tropes we so often get in films about characters with dementia. And it’s also clear that the horror here is dementia itself, and not the person suffers from it, even if their behavior is disconcerting, or even creepy.

This culminates in a very strange ending that manages to distill all those complicated emotions down to their essence: we grow old, we become decrepit, and that is neither nice nor beautiful. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t love or care anymore. Families should care for and love each other.

Sam (Bella Heathcote) looking distressed.

The three women at the center of the film are perfectly portrayed by the excellent cast and the horror elements are very well done, too – especially when it comes to exploring the house a little more. Nevertheless, there was a bit before the big finale where the film became a little too long and sluggish.

But overall, Relic really is a fantastic film, especially for a first-time director like James, and it was a great start to the festival this year. I am sure that the film will stay with me for a while.

Edna (Robyn Nevin) and Kay (Emily Mortimer) hugging.

Summarizing: Beautiful.

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