Relic isn’t your usual horror movie.
In many ways, it’s actually a family drama that just happens to unfold in a haunted house.
When elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to their family’s decaying country home. There they find clues of Edna’s increasing dementia scattered around the house. After Edna returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared, her behavior turns increasingly volatile. Both Kay and Sam begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her.
Read on for a complete review of Relic, or jump to the end to get the spoiler-free bottom line.
Relic Review (Contains Spoilers!)
The film begins with Kay and her daughter Sam rushing to Edna’s remote country home. A neighbor has reported her missing, and no one has been able to reach her for days.
Instead of finding Edna, Kay and Sam find evidence of her increasing dementia. The house is scattered with Post-It notes – mundane reminders Edna wrote herself, like “take pills” and “turn off the tap.”
Then Sam wraps herself in her grandmother’s sweater and pulls a different kind of note out of the pocket: “Don’t follow it.”
That one captures the usual horror feel, but the other notes? They’re scary in a different way. Relic excels at capturing the very real, very grounded fear for a family member struggling with dementia: the fear that they may be the greatest danger to themselves.
As someone who has felt this kind of fear first hand, I can say few films have ever captured it so well as Relic. When Edna reappears, her family should be relieved. Instead, their concerns only grow as Edna is unable to say where she’s been or what she’s been doing for the last few days. When Kay finds blood on her nightgown and Edna can’t explain it? Sure, that could be a result of some supernatural horror. Or it could be something normal…and that’s somehow so much worse.
Is it supernatural? Or something worse?
That’s the theme that runs throughout Relic. Is the supernatural to blame for Edna’s increasingly odd and volatile behavior, or is she just suffering from a tragic cognitive decline? (And how can her family deal with it, either way?)
Rather than opening up in the presence of her daughter and granddaughter, Edna grows increasingly secretive and aggressive. She covers up a dark, rot-like injury on her chest. She starts arguing with people who aren’t there. Edna gives Sam her ring and then shortly after accuses her of stealing it, literally wrestling it away from her granddaughter.
All the while, Kay and Sam grapple with the difficult decision of how to move forward in a way that keeps Edna safe.
Relic doesn’t necessarily feel like a horror movie until after the first hour. Sure, it lays the groundwork with the creepy note, the knocking coming from inside the walls, the imagery of rot and decay, Kay’s strange dreams. But at its heart, the movie is about the relationship between Edna, Kay, and Sam.
Then suddenly, all the threads come together and the real horror starts.
The formerly slow pace set by the film kicks into hyperdrive. Kay goes head-to-head with the creature that used to be her mother as Sam finds the walls (literally) closing in on her.
I don’t want to give away the ending, but I’ll say that once again Relic doesn’t do the expected.
Overall, Relic’s true success lies in its portrayal of relationships and familial love. I’ll admit that it left me feeling more sad than scared, which isn’t necessarily what I want from a horror movie. Still, I can’t say that the story didn’t capture my attention. I also appreciate the film’s willingness to approach the horror genre from a different, more grounded perspective.
Relic: The Spoiler-Free Bottom Line
In many ways, Relic is more of a family drama than a traditional horror film. If you’re looking for nonstop scares, Relic probably isn’t for you. But if you’re willing to branch out a bit to experience a different kind of horror, you should give it a shot.
What Relic lacks in overt scares it more than makes up for with its creeping sense of dread and strong emotional through line. It’s not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but it is one of the most real ones.
Relic hits theaters and digital VOD July 10.
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