Natalie Erika James’ Relic plays like the younger sibling of Ari Aster’s 2018 masterpiece Hereditary. On paper, this is a slow-burning horror film that pits our characters against a force beyond this world. But at its core, it is a deeply moving family drama about a tragic family event. Relic is one of the best horror movies of 2020.
When elderly Edna (Robyn Neven) inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to their family’s decaying country home, finding clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. After Edna returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared, Kay’s concern that her mother seems unwilling or unable to say where she’s been clashes with Sam’s unabashed enthusiasm to have her grandma back. As Edna’s behavior turns increasingly volatile, both begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her.
From the opening frame Relic is a complete mystery, which is really special in the horror genre. I was constantly wondering where the film was going to go and I was never able to predict it. Where did Edna go? And then when Edna reappears, where was she? How did she get back? James does a brilliant job of slowly peeling back the layers, making us question if its Edna’s dementia that caused her to disappear or something lurking in the house. The climax is shocking, horrifying, and absolutely perfect and the final shot is a great cliffhanger.
But it isn’t just the horror elements the James reveals. We also dig deeper into this family and the events that are taking place currently in the house and the events that took place before Edna’s disappearance. Relic is a movie about a family member’s growing dementia and a family coming to terms with it. It’s a heavy subject, but it is something a lot of families deal with and James handles it with intelligence and care. We watch as Kay and Sam try to come to terms with the fact that their mother and grandmother is slowly losing her mind and that the woman that raised them and loved them growing up will never be the same person. This is the best part of Relic and a part the really hit me while watching it. Relic is a family drama with horror elements, not a horror film with family elements.
The trio of actresses are all spectacular. Neven gives my new favorite supporting actress performance of 2020. This is a layered performance where Neven wears a number of faces. We see her when she’s her normal self, the woman Kay and Sam recognize and know. But we watch her go in-and-out with her dementia and that is when Neven puts on a show, particularly when it gets beyond dementia and something more horrifying.
Mortimer is superb as Kay. The dysfunctional relationship she has with her mother simmers underneath Kay’s skin as she tries to find her mother, but as soon as she sees the state Edna, her shell begins to break and she starts to see her mother for who she really is and tries to convince Sam that this isn’t the woman she last saw, even though she takes some convinving. Though we get a couple scenes with other characters, Relic is a showcase for Neven, Mortimer, and Heathcote.
Relic is as good as any horror movie in 2020. It’s strong family themes mixed with great thrills, gore, and performances offer up a well-made, powerful film.
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