Let’s check on grandma.
Natalie Erika James’ directorial debut ends up being one of the most symbolically beautiful horror films I have seen in some time. We follow Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) as they check in on Sam’s grandmother Edna (Robyn Nevin). Edna has gone missing, and the two find a decaying home with no signs of where she could have gone.
The film markets itself as a supernatural horror—it isn’t. It is going to be hard to discuss the film without going into some of the symbolism present. For fans of thoughtful horror, this is a must see. However, if you’re wanting to go into it blind, I suggest stopping here.
Mild spoiler warning.
Edna reappears with no memory of where she had been a few days after Kay and Sam arrive. Bruised, but seemingly okay, Kay is left wondering what to do with her mother. The house continuously decays around them, as does Edna’s mental state, which becomes increasingly volatile. Whether they should have Sam move in or move Edna to a home becomes a focus amidst the creepy atmosphere of the home.
What makes Relic so interesting is that everything is symbolic of Edna’s deteriorating mental and physical state. The home is an extension of her being, both physical and subconscious, and as she loses her grip on her mental state the house, too, corrupts.
Memories, decay, and regret are a major focus of the story. There is clearly an underlining tension among the family, but it manifests itself in small moments rather than chunky exposition where everything is cleanly spilled out. We have to put together the pieces rather than being fed the information.
The symbolism of the film may be heavy handed, but the reality of watching a loved one become a shell of themselves is a tragedy many will eventually have to face. The acting is phenomenal, but Robyn Nevin steals the show as she goes from terrified to terrifying in a blink. This is another film where the story can almost be entirely told with the character’s expressions.
I suppose some might find the story too one note as the focus is on mental deterioration. For me, a film that does one thing needs to do that one thing well, and this one meets this benchmark and exceeds it. We have a meditation on dementia or Alzheimer’s and the testing of the familial bonds in the face of these cruel diseases.
The final act of the film ramps of the tension, but instead of a fright fest, it becomes a gut-wrenching reminder that ultimately the rot comes for us all.
This is an excellent film that will stay with you long after the final tragic scene.
A must watch.