Most horror movies are an escapist fantasy in which we seek visceral thrills through monstrous creatures, psychopath killers and paranormal hauntings. But those that explore the harsh realities of life – like Natalie Erika James’s directorial debut Relic – are the ones that deliver an uncomfortable emotional punch and hit us right in the gut.
Relic’s premise revolves around the one thing that many people fear the most in life – not being there enough for their parents as they wither away due to old age. Or living with the guilt of impatient and angry behavior as parents become senile and more difficult to handle. This is the dilemma faced by Kay (Emily Mortimer) as she pays a visit to her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) who has been reported missing by her neighbors for the past few days. Accompanying her is her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote), who is keen to stay close to her mother and grandmother.
Edna’s house, located in the secluded, woody interiors of the country is the focal point of the story. When Kay and Sam arrive, they find it in a state of decay and neglect, with stained-glass windows, rotting fruit in a bowl and black mould spots on the wall. The house seems like a character of its own, enwrapped in fear and dread, hiding seemingly sinister secrets within its empty yet claustrophobic interiors.
When Edna unexpectedly returns one night like she has just returned from a stroll, Kay becomes concerned about her well-being and ponders over putting her in an old-age home. However, she fails to heed to the real terrors that haunt Edna – loneliness and being neglected by her family.
The mold in the movie is symbolic of the mental state of Edna, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. As it hovers over the house like an evil infection, we witness Edna disintegrate mentally and physically. Kay’s fretful concern slowly turns to panic, as she realizes her mother’s breakdown may lead to graver consequences for the family. Amid this are sporadic flashbacks of her great-grandfather, who died alone of dementia and whose body was found in a putrefied state. Kay is determined not to let her mother suffer the same fate.
What transpires in the final moments of the movie is what makes Relic a standout among its peers. The unnerving quiet and stillness in the house turns to a frenzied, frenetic chase with Kay and Sam attempting to escape the clutches of a seemingly possessed Edna.
But as horror movie tropes go, the ending is not what you expect (see it for yourself, it won’t be explained here). There is a moral, emotional lesson that Erika James intends to teach from her own personal experiences. You do not give up on your parents when they become old. It is the order of life for people to grow old, become senile, get afflicted by disease, and not function as they were able to in their heydays. They might become snappy, unreasonable, and rude, but you need to be patient and care for them as they did while raising you. Relic poignantly touches on this issue while deftly wrapping it up in traditional horror fare.
Horror movies usually serve one purpose – to scare the crap out of you, make you feel disturbed (or amused) or provide gory blood-drenched entertainment. But rare are the ones that can strike an emotional chord, remain with you for days, and even compel you to become a better person. And that’s the reason why Relic is one of the most beautiful horror movies you will ever watch till date.
Verdict – 5/5 stars
Watch ‘Creswick’, the short film by Natalie Erika James that inspired Relic.