Well, I cannot question whether RELIC is an effective horror film on account of the fact that the damn thing went and gave me nightmares. I’m not talking about the fun kind of nightmare where you get chased around an old house by a fuzzy monster; I’m talking about the shitty kind of nightmare where your body starts falling apart and you can physically tell that you are dying and are experiencing your very last moment of consciousness. Why you gotta do me like that RELIC– especially in the same year that I was psychologically bullied by THE LODGE?
Now, I know there are a lot more than two types of horror films but currently I can readily divide them into two distinct camps. There are fun horror movies filled with giddy, squirmy amusing entertainment and then there are non-fun horror movies that torture you by making you question your sanity while screaming in your ear that you are currently dying and will inescapably be dead one day. In normal times, I dig both but these days I can respect the latter but I can’t escape feeling trampled and abused.
Director Natalie Erika James feature debut RELIC is an accomplished, beautifully crafted film but stand warned, zero fun is to be had here! You need to have a taste for the flavor of hopeless existential dread. Emily Mortimer is Kay who along with her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) return to a hoard-y family homestead to check on her increasingly forgetful ma Edna (Robyn Nevin) who disappears for days and leaves tell-tale post-it notes everywhere. What could be a profound family get-together between three generations of women turns into a nosedive into psychological hell complete with haunting apparitions, relentlessly expanding black mold, impossible labyrinths and loads of old-age body horror.
RELIC is all about that deliberate, slow-burn pace that’s all kinds of fashionable these days but considering the subject matter, I don’t think any other approach would be appropriate. All three women are stellar in their roles and each gets to reveal layers not originally apparent. For me, RELIC’s strongest source of power is in its visuals some of which I’ll be trying to shake for the next couple of days at least (unclear figures in dilapidated windows always seem to get under my skin for reasons I don’t know). This flick is ultimately an endlessly fascinating psychological thriller that turns the everyday horrors of aging and mental decline into sheer concentrated apprehension. Suffice to say, I chanted many a “nope, nope, nope” when the more ambiguous horrors solidified into the undeniable. RELIC is a stunner but make sure you save it for a day when you can mentally afford peeking into the abyss.
WAIT it’s worse. Immediately after writing this review (a couple months ago) everything I own seemed to break and fall apart one by one. I also noticed my eyesight dwindling, my hair falling out and my hands turning into scaly claws that itch all day. My computer was down for the count, my Playsatation2 gasped its last breath and a vinyl record melted in my grasp as I tried to clean it. Somehow worse than losing everything was the growing knowledge that everything I have accumulated over the years, everything I spent (too many) hours creating was undeniably worthless (also: the floor is caving in, all my favorite restaurants are closed, my beloved neighborhood movie theater is being demolished and I can feel the woeful silent suffering of every stray cat in chilly Philly).
My cat died. We adopted a feral kitten who hates me. Have you ever had this thing where something bad happens to you and then a bucket is sent down to the deepest, darkest pit of your soul to retrieve every single other horrible thing that ever happened in your lifetime and it dredges the slime up out of the well and pours it all over the top of your head? That happened. I couldn’t even cook anything without it turning to rot and setting off the smoke alarm. This dumb movie spurred (another) curse upon me and only now looking back do I realize how awful and all-consuming it was. Time itself sped up and I was on a conveyor belt toward death with only my poor mother ahead of me (sounds insane and yet exactly what RELIC kept hammering into my marshmallow skull ).
But it’s OK now (nervous chuckle)! The computer is fixed, I bought a new (used) Playstation 2 and the new cat has at least begun to take naps with me. Come to think of it, every year at the end of winter I sort of turn into Jack Torrance in THE SHINING for a spell. This year was just so much worse thanks to the nightmare that is COVID. I’m just not great at pretending everything is normal when it’s clearly not. I don’t know about you, but the tidal wave of death that surrounds us now freaks me the hell out & I’m just going to admit it. In closing, maybe stay clear of downer RELIC. Instead, I recommend to our dear readers, THE WOLF OF SNOW HOLLOW, LOVE AND MONSTERS and SPONTANEOUS; those fine films at least didn’t conspire with a pandemic to steal years off of my life. I appreciate that.