From IMDB: A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family’s home.
Relic, not to be confused with the 1997 film titled THE Relic, was released on VOD this past weekend and I was very excited to check out a new, atmospheric horror! It’s been awhile since a film was released that I have been excited to see (and a new horror film to boot!) and so I jumped at the chance to take a look at this piece and share my thoughts with you all!
As excited as I was for the film, there were a few bits and pieces I heard leading up to the release that made me a little hesitant: mainly, that Relic was being compared to Jennifer Kent’s 2014 film The Babadook.
To be fair, I did not hateThe Babadook, but I found it to be extremely on-the-nose in regards to symbolism and theme, and I found the resolution of the main story to be terribly problematic in terms of what the film appeared to be saying about mental illness and caring for and about someone struggling with a mental illness.
SPOILER ALERT FOR THE BABADOOK (2014) – At the end, the film had the lead literally lock the monster (or her mental illness) in the basement and tell her child that they will just keep the beast there and never speak about it again. I am no mental health expert, but I think “Pretending Your Mental Illness Doesn’t Exist” and trying to hide it away is the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you should do if you or a loved one is dealing with a mental health issue, and is very troubling that this was the writer/director’s quick answer to tackling such a complicated issue.
If you or a loved one is dealing with some form of mental illness, please do not wait and get in touch with an expert who can help and provide you the correct resources and information to get you or your loved one the help that you need. You can find a list of resources HERE and The National Alliance on Mental Illness page, with phone numbers, email addresses, and more, can be found HERE.
As always, friends, take care of yourselves, your family members, and your loved ones, and pay attention to those around you who may be in need, but who are unsure of how to ask for help.
With that all said, let’s get back to talking about Relic!
As you can surely see, I had some reservations about how this film would handle a character suffering from dementia, and portray the impact that this struggle had on the character’s surrounding family.
And, though this film was also very on-the-nose in terms of symbolism, I found this film to be respectful enough and anchored by strong performances by the three leading ladies: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, and Bella Heathcote. There are some very raw emotional moments, like the explanation for why the neighborhood boy is no longer allowed to visit Edna, and several nice touches that make the characters and world feel lived in, like the little post-it notes Edna leaves scattered around her house, reminding her to do things like flush the toilet, and take her medicine.
In some ways, a horror film about an elderly family member tackling dementia or some other form of mental illness is not new. This project reminded me, in many ways, of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 film The Visit, though I did enjoy that one more, as it was a straight-forward creeper, was well-paced, and was ultimately a fun watch.
Now, let’s talk about the story!
We start the film by watching an unattended bathtub fill and overflow. As it does, the water runs down the stairs and pools at the feet of a naked old woman standing deathly still in the dark. This opening was very atmospheric and built a sense of dread with no dialogue, something that we can all learn from as we write our contained horror pieces!
That said, stylistically the opening did remind me a bit of the opening of the awful Midsommar (though The Captain would disagree
) but thankfully this film uses this setup in a much stronger manner.
We then cut to the old woman’s daughter (Kay – Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter (Sam – Bella Heathcote) who are called to the house, as the neighbors have not seen Edna (The old woman) in a few days and are starting to get worried.
And so, the two women drop everything and travel to the countryside to check in with Edna. When they arrive, they find the place a mess: food has been left out and has spoiled, weeds in the garden are overgrown, neighbors won’t go near the house, and Kay is starting to have some sudden, intense reactions to being back in the home (because something bad may or may not have happened when she was a child)
This is a fantastic set-up for a horror film: an isolated location, something creepy going on, past secrets that haunt our heroes, bad weather keeping the characters trapped, the list goes on. Now, I do think that the pacing could have been tightened up a lot, and plot beats needed to be much more fleshed out, as many of them are dropped halfway through with no explanation, but the setup is something to pay attention to and learn from as we craft our own stories.
The plot continues as both Kay and Sam wait for Edna to return to her house, or for the police to find some trace of her. And, as they wait, strange things begin to happen in the house, leading them both to question what nightmare they have walked into.
Eventually, Edna does return to the house, covered in dirt and grime, and refusing to tell anyone where she was or why she left… and this is when the horror really begins for our trio of heroines as something, or someone, does not want them to leave the house alive.
Before I get to the scares, I have to elaborate on one thing I mentioned above: to be fair to my critique of The Babadook, there is some very on-the-nose symbolism in this feature as well, such as an unusual dark spot in the home that continues to grow as the story progresses.
As for the scares, they are pretty predictable, and it takes far too long for us to get to them.
Several of the “scares”in the film turn out to (obviously) be dream sequences, robbing them of any impact or real relevance to the story. We also get a few jump scares, but nothing too egregious, thankfully.
For the most part, though, the scares all play out in a tired manner: there are some strange noises, shadowy figures, whispers in the dark, and ominous warnings about some kind of danger lurking nearby. Nothing you have not seen before, and nothing that is going to stick with you after the film has ended.
My first major issue with the film is the final showdown, which is so poorly handled that it borders on absurdist comedy. No spoilers, but there is an extended scene of poorly choreographed slapstick violence between our three main characters that may as well have been set to a Benny Hill tune. This is especially unfortunate, as there is a really nice, human moment between mother and daughter directly afterwards, but the disastrous lead-up to this ruined any pathos the film was trying to evoke.
Another of my major issues with the film was the pacing: it is slow with a capital S. For reference, in an only hour and twenty-nine minute film, we have one full minute and forty-four seconds of opening credits. Take that as you will, but it did not work for me and was a bad sign of things to come.
In addition to that, very little actually happens in terms of story, and this film plays out more like a drama with some creepy moments, than a standard horror film. That is to say, it is important to have the right expectations when viewing this film, as if you are looking for a gorefest, a memorable movie monster, or a spooky story to keep you up at night, this will not be it.
Overall, I have to give this one a SKIP IT rating. If this concept or theme appeals to you, watch The Visit instead. With this feature, so little happens, what does happen is very on-the-nose in terms of in-your-face symbolism, and the film is so poorly paced that I just cannot give it my recommendation.
Perhaps when it inevitably comes to Netflix, or Amazon, or one of the other streaming services available, you might want to put it on one cold night when nothing else sounds appealing, but it is not worth the current hefty $5.99 for an HD rental, and probably not worth the hour and a half of your time that it will demand, either.
But what did you think of Relic? Did you like it more than I did? Dislike it? Let me know below!
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