The first two-thirds of this 90-minute family drama slog pointlessly, scaffolding characters without much development happening, before twisting into a formulaically scary final act. Relic’s
concept was engendered through James’s short film Creswick, which is no
surprise. She attempts to stretch that story and stick on various appendages to
fill the proper runtime for a feature film. Although the film is passable as a debut and shows her visual potential as a filmmaker, there’s a lot of empty space.
Robyn Nevin is chilling as Edna. Photo: image.net
Relic catalyses with the disappearance of the family
matriarch Edna, a chilling Robyn Nevin. This forces her daughter Kay (Emily
Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to visit her house, which is buried in
a thick Australian forest, and try to find her.
Edna’s mind is
fading from dementia. Sticky notes are all over the walls, reminding her to
take her pills and flush the toilet. It’s a cold, eerie interior, wielding some
unseen evil. Often the lights aren’t on, casting most of the house into a
cloudy, unsettling shadow. Edna does eventually return, but as a divided shell
tells the investigating officer that she hasn’t visited Edna in a few weeks. Even when Edna called to say someone was in the house, her daughter didn't come.
James sets up this guilt perfectly, creating friction with Kay's daughter as
they’re stuck in the house together. Many scenes wield those emotional
contradictions in family relationships: the passive-aggressive
arguments, irritation at life goals, and then finally submitting to the love
they have for each other.
Bella Heathcote stars as granddaughter Sam. Photo: image.net
Kay’s guilt swells as she considers taking Edna to a
residential home: wanting to care for her, but swerving the burden of
responsibility. Like with most dementia dramas, Edna’s mood swings turn
aggressive and uncaring and buried in confused memories. The recollections weave
in and out in a dreamy delirium, appearing to Kay in various nightmares: chiefly
involving a cabin in the woods with rotting horrors inside.
this horror-movie examination of an ailing mind and its devastating effect on
the family feels like a misstep, even demonising dementia. Edna’s the monster
in the house that ends up chasing them and hurting them. This would be more acceptable if James plunged deeper into their characters and their histories, but they’re left
The final act is saved by
cinematographer Charlie Sarroff and production designer Steven Jones-Evans, who
create a veritably surreal arena of the mind. But it’s a long time before you
get there. You can see the ambition in Relic, but much of it's just vaguely
Reviewed at the London Film Festival 2020. Relic will be available on BFI Player from Friday 9 October. It comes to UK cinemas on Friday 30 October.
|What||Relic film review|
09 Oct 20 – 12 Oct 20, LFF RELEASE, ON BFI IPLAYER
30 Oct 20 – 30 Oct 21, IN CINEMAS
|Website||Click here for more information|