In her directorial debut, Australian director Natalie Erika James, through a spooky atmosphere and monstrous metaphors, successfully reached to the deepest of all fears – fear of old age, helplessness, isolation and death.
If we manage to survive youth and all its madness, middle age and all its dangers, all of us, without exception, one day will face with old age. And old age can sometimes be awful. From helplessness, illness, mental and physical decay, to social isolation and closing the eyes of those who would rather forget this inevitable natural process – society often begins to perceive old people as ‘monsters’, beings who would rather be locked up in inaccessible places far from the rest of civilization, trapped in their helplessness, to face to the inevitable end.
In ‘Relic’ there are no classic horror moments in which you jump out of fear, there isn’t even too much blood, death or violence, but it is certain that it will easily fill you with anxious and horrible.
The story begins with a local police officer from a small Australian town reporting to middle-aged Kay (Emily Mortimer) that her elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) has disappeared from her house on the edge of a forest around the village. Kay sits in the car along with her twenty-year-old daughter Sam (Bella Heathcode) and goes to see what happened to ‘grandma’.
They are greeted by an unusual situation in the house – Edna really isn’t there, and there are no clues to conclude what happened to her, but the old house, which is a bit dilapidated, seems to be giving some signs – as if she is living her own life. The messages on the pieces of paper that Kay finds around the house are also disturbing. According to some, it can be concluded that old Edna began to lose her memory because they serve as reminders for taking medication and other things, but some upset Edna’s daughter and granddaughter on a deeper level, for example: paper with text ‘Am I loved?’
When Edna appears inexplicably after a few days – a bit wounded and scratched, but generally alive and well – it turns out that she doesn’t know where she was or what happened to her. Kay and Sam decide to stay with her a little longer, mostly because consider placing Edna in a ‘safer’ place. With Edna’s more and more bizarre behavior, some inexplicable things begin to unfold in the house..
The interior of the house is gradually becoming more and more unnaturally spacious and labyrinthine. “Since Grandpa died, the house seems alien and bigger,” old Edna complains to her daughter Kay and granddaughter Sam. Edna introduces herself to us in the introductory scene that lays the foundations of the “haunted house”.
Water overflows from the tub and drip all the way to the lower floor of the house, and in the reflection of the puddle shines colorful lights on the Christmas tree. Edna paused in front of the Christmas tree, frozen, as if she had seen a ghost. The scene of the half-naked old woman is quite illustrative.
Nudity here suggests the vulnerability of a lonely woman in her advanced years. “Where’s everyone,” repeats Edna with whom her daughter and granddaughter haven’t heard from in weeks. Pretty sad picture.
Age, decay, dementia, and helplessness that turns into a painful, furious scream are the main elements of the horror in this film, but horror fans don’t have to fear that everything else is just on a metaphysical level. The motif of an occupied house living its life and trying to separate from the world, practically devouring its inhabitants is a classic horror moment that is brilliantly used in this film and very striking in the atmosphere. It’s similar with the monster makeover of the main character, who could very easily haunt your dreams after you watch the movie.
But what makes this film so impressive is focus on our deepest fears and discomfort associated with age, physical and mental decay, and rejection from the rest of society, family, and community.
Try to put yourself in the shoes of your grandparents or older parents for a moment, who have a daily obsession with visiting doctors, swallowing a handful of pills to help overcome pain and other ailments, worries. Helpless in their fragile bodies they feel like a huge burden to their offspring and often silence their fears and with a spasm on their face pretend they don’t need anyone.
The younger generation, on the other hand, fights for existence and tries to find precious time in crowded schedules and somehow with relief embraces parents false statement that they are well.
The story is especially difficult for families whose older members suffer from some form of dementia, and here we follow it through an unusual form of supernatural transformation.
This tangible feeling of horror is further contributed by the direction of Natalie Erika James, who expertly uses all known and unknown genre tricks (creaking wood, water leaking from the bathtub, rot coming out of wooden walls, etc.) but at the same time skillfully places elements of drama in film.
The rhythm of the film is quite slow, the plot is confusing at times, but everything has its why and how. Fans of films such as Hereditary”, “The Babadook”, “It Follows”, “Goodnight Mommy”, “The VVItch”, “Get Out!”, “Us”, “The Lodge”, “Midsommar”, will find a reason to celebrate “Relic”, those who search for blood will have to wait for something else.