I was drawn to the tagline of this movie: ‘everything decays.’ That undisputable fact of our lives has always fascinated me and seemed very apt for horror movie. Relic was released in July 2020 and I’ve only just got around to seeing it after getting through all the books I wanted to read last year.
The movie is the directorial debut of Australian filmmaker Natalie Erika James. Jake Gyllenhaal and Riva Marker served as producers on the film, while Anthony Russo and Joe Russo served as executive producers. It is a horror movie that doesn’t rely on a supernatural sighting, but like the best unsettling films, it’s based on a real-world fear. In this particular case, dementia. The story revolves around a deteriorating elderly woman, Edna (played by Robyn Nevin). Notified that her mother, Edna, is missing, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her workaholic daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), drive to Edna’s rural home. At the house they can’t find her but find signs of the poor state of Edna’s mind, including notes with reminders to “take pills” and, more ominously, “don’t follow it.”
Edna reappears, refusing to say where she has been, there’s dirt under her fingernails and a dark bruise on her chest. “I’m losing everything,” she tells her daughter , who’s becoming increasingly troubled by terrifying nightmares.
The aspect of the film regarding dementia is superbly dealt with and is ideal for the horror genre. Beecause Edna’s fears are legitimate. There is something in the house that is not right at all. Yet frustratingly for the viewer, she isn’t listened to, because the elderly usually aren’t listened to. They’re condescended to, dismissed, or ignored. Edna’s loneliness, her terrors, are all interpreted as signs of dementia. But maybe Edna is the only one who really knows what’s going on. The tension is relentlessly and slowly ratcheted: frenetic scenes between the women interspersed with uncomfortable scenes of deathly quiet: lengthy static shots of unbearable empty hallways, dusty rooms and shadowy stairs and slightly open doors. Spaces seem to shift and change––doors close and ceilings lower. It culminates in an extremely nerve-shredding finale.