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Review: Relic (2020)

Dementia is a terrible thing, that affects so many people in so many different ways. We read about the more extreme cases, people will simply wander off with no idea of where they’re going or what they’re doing. Sometimes they’re found in time. Often, as was the case with a friend of my parents, they aren’t. It’s this real-life horror that serves as the starting point for director Natalie Erika James and co-writer Christian White’s film Relic.

Nobody has seen Edna (Robyn Nevin, Matrix Reloaded, Sting) in some time. So her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer, Transsiberian, Spectral) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote, The Neon Demon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) make the drive to her rural home to check up on her. The furniture is in disorder. There are sticky notes all over the house to remind her to take her pills, turn off the stove, flush the toilet, etc. There’s food set out for a pet that died years before. And Edna is missing.

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The two women stay while efforts are made to find Edna. Almost immediately, they begin to hear strange sounds that suggest something is in the walls of the house. And there are the ominous dreams involving a building that used to sit on the property. Then as suddenly as she vanished, Edna returns, unable or unwilling to say where she’s been. And although she seems fine at first, it soon becomes obvious something has changed.

Relic blends the supernatural and Edna’s condition to create a situation where we know something is wrong, but we don’t know what. Or how much is actually happening and how much is the result of Edna’s failing mind. It’s an odd sort of slow burn that sets up the last act. And that’s when we find out what’s what. Sort of.

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Set almost entirely within the house, Relic builds a claustrophobic atmosphere. The house itself becomes a fourth character by the film’s end. A malevolent character, much like the house in Burnt Offerings. The sounds coming from the walls. The dreams full of images of mould and decay. The spots of mould on the walls. It’s some of the most effective use of foreshadowing I’ve seen in a while.

The three human characters are well written and believable as a real if somewhat strained family. And you need to believe in the bond between them to believe Kay and Sam would stick around. Thankfully, the script and the performances are up to the task.

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An effective slow-burn, Relic will be released July 10th in theatres and On Demand by IFC Midnight. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more details.

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