mon 01/03/2021

DVD/Blu-ray: Relic | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: Relic

DVD/Blu-ray: Relic

Dementia as demonic possession in an outstanding contemporary horror

'Sorry I wasn't here more.' Emily Mortimer and Robyn Nevin in 'Relic'

Relic's deliberate drabness hits home first; set in Victoria, Natalie Erika James’s modern horror shows us a grey contemporary Australia, a place bleached of all colour.

Relic's deliberate drabness hits home first; set in Victoria, Natalie Erika James’s modern horror shows us a grey contemporary Australia, a place bleached of all colour. We first see Kay and her daughter Sam (Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote, pictured below) driving through a wooded landscape in search of Kay’s octogenarian mother Edna (Robyn Nevin), reported as missing from the family home. James's debut highlights how fraught intergenerational relationships can be, and Kay’s indifference to Edna is made clear when she’s quizzed by the local police about when she last checked in with her mother, struggling to recall when the pair last spoke.

To those of a certain age, this is a scarily pertinent film, examining the ambivalence with which we view our elderly relatives. A dishevelled Edna unexpectedly reappears with no memory of where she’s been or what she’s been doing (“I suppose I was out”). Though initially declared by her GP to be mentally sound, it’s clear that something’s amiss; post-it notes and a mysterious black mould disfigure the walls of Edna’s home and the clutter keeps on piling up.

Relic coverWeighing up the conflicting demands of career and carer, Kay plans to move Edna into a Melbourne retirement home, fiercely opposed by her daughter, pointing out that “she changed your nappies – you change hers!” Sam, meanwhile, adrift and underachieving, would prefer to move in with Edna as a live-in carer. Edna’s erratic physical and mental deterioration is mirrored by the dark patches that start to appear on her skin. A malign presence in her home is alluded to but wisely never made explicit. Edna speaks of “a coldness in the house which could bury my soul”, and is found by Kay in the garden, chewing up family photographs and attempting to bury the album to preserve it.

Possession is a cruelly apt metaphor for the ravages of dementia, and anyone who’s witnessed a family member suffer will find Relic harrowing but gripping. For a debut feature, this is an incredibly assured piece of work, James securing magnificent performances from her three leads. Nevin in particular is a revelation, an actor too little known in the UK, her character’s transformation from forgetful grandmother to empty shell wholly convincing. Mortimer and Heathcote’s mother/daughter dynamic is always believable, the guilt felt by Kay increasingly etched upon her face.Relic Bella HeathcoteRelic’s trailer is misleading, suggesting that this is a more conventional shocker than it actually is. James’s fondness for long silences and steady pacing really pays off, and the coda is both devastating and consolatory. Extras include interviews with the director and the three leading cast members. James reveals how her own grandmother’s worsening Alzheimer’s prompted her to begin writing the screenplay, and Mortimer accurately describes the moment when a relative fails to recognise close family members as “a moment in life when you feel you’re in a horror film”. On a lighter note, it’s good to hear the trio recall how much fun they had together when filming the fight scenes.

@GrahamRickson

A malign presence is alluded to but never made explicit

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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