It's horrifying growing old, but time does not fly by quickly in the new film, "Relic."
The best films in the horror genre do not deal simply in monsters or evil spirits alone, but in much deeper metaphoric frights. "Relic" lands in this category, which elevates it above many others in the genre that deal only in cheap thrills and scares. As different as we all are, we as a species share a commonality in that we fear our own death...in turn, we fear growing old.
Looking back on "Relic" hours and days after watching it, you'll gain some respect for what first-time writer/director, Natalia Erika James, was attempting to do, as she creeps unafraid through the corridors of our psyche, approaching slowly and carefully towards this universal truth that none of us, ultimately, will escape from. Unfortunately, the film itself isn't as lofty as its ideals, and the experience of watching it mostly falls flat.
When 70-something-year-old Grandma Edna (Robyn Nevin, in a chilling performance) goes missing, her daughter, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), show up at her home to investigate. Edna lived alone, but showed no real signs of mental health issues...there is no good reason Grandma would just disappear. Kay and Sam find the house in a bit of a shamble, with rotten fruit strewn about and in need of some serious deep cleaning. But nothing out-of-the-ordinary. It's when Edna miraculously just shows up a few days later, barefoot and filthy from head-to-toe, when things start to get weird.
She's not the same. Kay and Sam stick around to make sure their loved one is OK, but strange things start happening. A house they once knew grows increasingly unfamiliar, as does this woman they've known and loved.
Style-wise, "Relic" is an effective mood piece...ironically though, it works better on a deeper, more meaningful level than it does on the surface. At first glance, "Relic" is camouflaged as a run-of-the-mill, eerie haunted house story. Upon reflection later on however, you'll start to piece together what it all meant and what exactly the fearless writer/director was trying to say.
Unfortunately, by then it's a bit too late. While Mortimer, Heathcote and Nevin all give respectable performances, some elements of their relationships that are introduced seem to be a bit under-cooked. For a horror film, it builds quite slowly, and with a lean 89 minute run-time, the scares really don't even come until the final 20 minutes or so. That's a lot to ask of an audience...it's hard to get excited for the main course when you've not been given much to nibble on leading up to it.
Delving deeper would be to spoil. "Relic" rises above conventional horror movies in that it IS about something much more profound, it's just that in this case, the destination wasn't worth the journey.
(BELOW: watch my interview with Emily Mortimer!)
Genre: Horror, Drama.
Run Time: 1 hour 29 minutes.
Starring: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote.
Co-Written and Directed by Natalie Erika James (feature film directorial debut).
"Relic" is available on streaming platforms beginning Friday, July 10th, 2020.
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