Starring Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote, and Robin Nevin
Relic expertly portrays a real-world issue that is close to home for the director and, I’m sure, many of the viewers. Originally based director, Natalie Erica James’ personal experiences with dementia, having had her grandmother go through the struggles of the disease, Relic aims to educate others on the devastating reality of this disease and its emotional toll on the ones that you love.
Kay, and her daughter, Sam, are called to their remote family home in Victoria when Edna, Sam’s grandmother, is reported missing. After showing up three days later, covered in dirt and acting as if nothing has happened, Edna begins acting strangely and other peculiar happenings occur with the house.
Loud thuds can be heard, strange marks are growing on walls, and several allusions are made to a cabin on the property, owned by Edna’s father and since knocked down. The three generations of women appear to be facing an unknown, supernatural presence with its sights set on Edna and taking over her old cabin home.
In reality, the only real horror in this movie is the demon of dementia and its slow possession of the mind.
Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and, since 2016, the leading cause of death for Australian women. Enda’s slow loss of control tells the story of the 250 people who join the dementia population each day.
She begins to forget things she should easily remember, act aggressively and talk to people that aren’t there, as the state of the house, and Edna’s body and mind, continue to worsen.
As the film progresses, the women try to navigate their new reality where Edna is no longer herself and this supernatural unknown threatens to consume their lives.
This film is rife with metaphors alluding to the devastating effects of dementia. The steady decline of the old home is the most glaring reference to the progression of Edna’s dementia. Full of hallways that lead to nowhere and loop back around, rotting walls that disappear or shrink into one big labyrinth. The symbolic use of Sam’s father’s cabin windows in Edna’s house is just one metaphor for the hereditary nature of the disease and its passing from father to daughter.
This slow-burn horror is clever in its use of misdirection, allowing the viewer to question what’s real and what’s not and experience first-hand the confusion that this disease can cause. Relic uses these misdirections to mislead viewers into questioning whether there is a malevolent supernatural force seeking to do harm to the women or all the strange happenings are being caused by the grandmother.
With the three main characters in the cast all being women, Relic challenges the stereotypical roles of women in horror by creating multidimensional characters that allow viewers to sympathise with the ‘villian’ of the story. Edna can be aggressive and unpredictable, but it is her unexpected moments of vulnerability that make it easy for the audience to sympathise. These characters consist of intelligent and capable women, able to show incredible compassion and love in times of need, which are qualities in women not often depicted in the horror genre. As Relic is based on the director’s mother and grandmother, this movie is touchingly personal to anyone affected by this disease and has very real human emotion at its core.
The director uses this film to explore real issues that affect dementia patients, like confusion, aggression, and vulnerability. As the movie progresses, Edna becomes increasingly violent and confused, putting food out for pets that they don’t have, talking to herself, and muddling names up. Mixed with classic horror tropes like gore and jump scares, it’s these confusing moments that really add to the movie’s suspenseful nature.
The tense relationships between the main characters is another factor adding to the isolation that the movie portrays, with the resentment shown between kay and Sam adding to the movie’s rigid context. The stress of familial obligation is clearly weighing on kay and Sam and is just another way that Relic portrays the very real issues present with dementia.
Relic uses this progressing tension to showcase the frustration of the family members when dealing with dementia’s slow toll on a loved one, and the compassion necessary even if they are a person that is no longer recognisable.
The setting of the film, abundant in dim lighting, dreary weather and dark hallways, adds an edge to the atmosphere and contributes to the unsettling feeling that the film provokes.
Relic’s main purpose throughout its 129 minutes is to educate the audience about the horrors of losing a loved one, particularly to an invisible illness, and the stress and repetition of caregiving. The film also draws focus to the guilt and trauma that comes with parenting a parent, the terrifying reality of someone you love becoming someone you don’t recognise, and the inevitability of death.
Going in to watch relic without prior knowledge about what the film is about can leave you a little bit confused at the ending (like me), however, once you know the topic, the director portrays dementia in a new light, showing the horrifying and devastating aspects, with the overall theme of compassion and love for those affected.
The director allows Relic to show its audience just how scary it can be to go through this disease and just how big of a toll this dementia can have on their families.
Although a touch more heartbreaking than it is horrifying, if slow-burn thrillers/horrors talking about real-world issues are your thing, definitely give Relic a watch.
As the feature directional debut of Australian director and co-writer, Natalie Erica James, Relic is a fresh take on the horror movie genre with the thought provoking topic of dementia taking centre stage.
Originally showcased at Sundance film festival, Relic is available to watch on Stan and is as heartbreaking as it is terrifying. At 129 minutes, Relic is not the longest movie but what it shows in this short time period really packs a punch.