Relic follows a Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), as they go to Kay's mother's house in the woods after she goes missing. When her mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin) returns, she refuses to speak about where she was or what she was doing and begins behaving strangely. As weird happenings occur in the house, Kay and her daughter must determine if it's time for Edna to be moved into assisted living, or if something more sinister is at work.
Of course the monster movie fan in me sees the title Relic and immediately thinks of The Relic, which is just a blast of a monster movie from the late nineties. I love it so much in a guilty-pleasure sort of way, but Relic is by far the superior film here. I may watch The Relic a dozen times, but Relic is the film I'd recommend a dozen times.
Relic is another one of those gems that uses horror as a vehicle to tell a very human story. While Relic takes its subject matter much more seriously than similar plots of the past (like The Taking of Deborah Logan), it blends its horror elements seamlessly with its haunted house tropes. It is clear from the beginning that Edna is suffering from dementia (and perhaps some level of Alzheimer's), but what isn't clear (and perhaps still isn't after the credits roll), is what's causing her deterioration and the house's dilapidation.
The house seems truly haunted, but it runs in parallel with the condition of the grandmother as she slowly suffers more and more. The haunting is like a direct metaphor in action for how the grandmother (and many others) suffer from such debilitating diseases. The house is growing, aching, and covered in a spreading fungus that eats away at the walls. Like the deteriorating brain, the house causes confusion and fear for everyone; there are suddenly endless corridors and a staircase that seemingly goes on for a few too many floors. Just like someone who is beginning to lose their memory and grip on reality, the house mirrors the experience of the grandmother.
The entire film plays out like the gradual experience of a woman coming to terms with her mother no longer being able to care for herself. But this is a visceral realization for mom, daughter and grandmother alike. Each one has their own relatable response to the situation to the point that the film works fully on its own without the haunting. But the haunting itself adds that extra layer of terror, conveying the confusion and dread that accompanies these illnesses and the real-life scenarios they create. Is it time for professionals to care for my parents? What's my role in their care? What do we do with the home? Am I going to suffer a similar fate when I am their age? These are all real, terrifying questions that this film answers, creating a layered horror film that is as scary with its real moments as the creepy house.
It's carried powerfully by the performances of the three leads. Mortimer is always fantastic, but Heathcote and Nevin also play their important parts beautifully in this dark, suspenseful drama. By the end, there is a pain that can be felt by the audience, and it carries with you long after the film ends.
At the end of the day, Relic is another one of those masterpieces that I deeply appreciate, but have no interest in watching again. It's the kind of horror movie I would recommend to a breadth of people, but wouldn't load it up to play again myself with those same people. It's a great film that should be appreciated for the imagery and metaphors it entails, but it's also something that achieves it once and has little else to say a second time, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Horror Rating System
Horror Qualifier: 8/10 Horror Quality: 5/10 Film Quality: 8/10