Halloween Month Review: Relic (2020)
Relic's slow-burn horror delivers in a unique way.
"When was the last time you spoke to her?", the policeman asks Kay (Emily Mortimer). She is here to report her mother missing from her home where she stays alone.
"It's been a few weeks", she answers. She doesn't need to explain herself to this police officer but does it anyway. "Work has been crazy. You know how it is."
It is almost a throwaway moment but the guilt that Mortimer exudes forms the narrative backbone of Relic. It is the key to all the explanations you will be looking for when the end credits start rolling.
Kay receives a phone call from the police that her mother's neighbors have not seen her for a few weeks. Kay arrives at her mother's rather isolated looking house with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote). They fear the worst but do not find any trace of the old woman. There are strange noises from the walls at night and one day, suddenly, she appears back.
Kay tries but her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) is tight-lipped about where she spent the last three days.
Relic is a slow-burner, but unlike some recent horror films, it has a sense of dread that keeps mounting - like the decay that is spreading on the walls. Keeping its drama focused predominantly on the three women heightens its claustrophobia and stresses the loneliness of these characters, that is one of the themes.
The last 20 minutes or so of the film turns into a mind-bending, terrifying odyssey. It is the most frightening and evocative metaphor for dementia and the mind's bleak capacity for creating traps within itself. And when this fever dream finishes, the new world demands tough decisions.
Yet the film ends on an oddly uplifting note.
The final acts of the women is a reconciliation with the past, with acceptance of the familial legacy, and the promise of satisfaction that comes from fulfilling responsibilities, however odious they might seem.
Natalie Erika James is a name to look forward to.