Directed by Natalie Erika James
I was going to cover this one as part of my usual diaries, but Day 4 was getting too full – thanks to some generous pr teams giving me screeners. And since this one is so damn good, and probably the biggest film of the day, I thought I’d cover it in isolation. Not only is this sure to be among the best of the fest, but it’s also almost guaranteed to be among my top ten of the year. And what a darn year it’s been!
By now, horror fans will be used to domestic horrors that draw parallels between evil forces and mental illnesses. In this case, the demon is dementia. Edna is an older woman, living alone, who inexplicably goes missing one night. Daughter Kay, and granddaughter Sam, go to her house in the woodlands to look for her. Inside, the signs of her deterioration are visible everywhere – things are scattered, and there are clear signs of distress. Days later, she shows up again with no explanation for where she’s been. Understandably Kay is concerned, though her desire to find out what happened clashes with Sam’s unabashed enthusiasm to have her grandma back. But as Edna’s behaviour turns increasingly volatile and unpredictable, both sense an insidious presence in the house that may be taking control of her.
Where the likes of Hereditary, or The Babadook, presented symptoms in common with a real-life psychiatric disorder and explained them via the supernatural, Relic delivers much of its story at face value. That’s because, and I say this not to take away from its effectiveness as a supernatural horror, a lot of it stands up as a melancholy drama about the ageing process. At its core, it’s about three generations of women negotiating their complicated relationships with each other against Edna’s memory loss. It’s about commitments, freedom and the hope that those who live long enough will be looked after by very people they nursed through infancy. As a horror, after a dread-inducing opener, it takes its time to do scares – in that respect, I don’t think it’ll be as accessible to genre purists as the two movies mentioned above.
Still, when James wants to do horror, she fully commits to it – and Edna’s cognitive decline is met by the house decaying around them. It builds up to a gruesome, but very touching finale I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it. The movie is held together by stellar cinematography, which gives the house a lot of character, and three stunning central performances. All three nail their parts, selling both the dramatic and the horror elements. Their commitment to the roles means the movie never loses sight of its humanity, forfeiting the meaning behind the metaphor. After all, as scary as dementia can be for the person suffering it, the sadness for those who gradually lose their loved one matches the fear. Tragic, frightening and an example of horror at is most potent. A film you won’t forget quickly.
Signature Entertainment presents Relic on Digital from 8th January and Blu-ray & DVD 18th January 2021