Directed by Natalie Erika James
Old people can be absolutely terrifying. I think it’s the fact that we begin to lose our cognitive function with age—unreliable cognition is the same reason children are great subjects for scary movies. “Relic” is doubly horrifying because the old person at its center has already proven that she can no longer be trusted to remember. As if dementia isn’t terrifying enough in real life, here it’s used as fodder for horror. Director Natalie Erika James’s debut isn’t perfect, but it did have me looking over my shoulder, at home, in the middle of the afternoon…so, it did something right.
When Kay’s (Emily Mortimer) forgetful 80-year-old mother Edna (Robin Nevin) goes missing from her home, Kay and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) drive from Melbourne to Australia’s remote countryside to look for her. They sleep in the house, hoping Edna will return soon. And after a day or two, she does, looking worse for wear and not able to say where she had been. Kay and Sam stick around, to make sure Edna is okay—and what a mistake that turns out to be. Edna brought something back home with her…something dead-set on overtaking and destroying everything in the old house.
“Relic” begins, disappointingly, with a series of bumps in the night and other typical jump scares. But before long, you’ll start to feel more genuinely scared. The frights begin to get less obvious, and the movie stops telling you how to feel. The scariest movies let you scare yourself. They give you all the tools, of course. But instead of shoving a ghost in your face and accompanying it with a loud noise, they stick a human-shaped shadow in the corner and don’t even mention it. When you see it, that’s when your mind starts making up the story. And there’s not much that’s scarier than your own imagination.
Emily Mortimer’s last credit was for “Mary,” an absolute dud of a horror movie—thankfully, “Relic” is better, though Mortimer herself is on par with past efforts. Bella Heathcote has a nice scene where she gets to show off her horror movie talents. She gets herself lost in a labyrinth of sorts, terrified the whole time, and the faster her breaths get as she struggles to escape, the faster ours do too. I empathized with her character. I can tell you one thing—Kay and Sam stayed in the house a lot longer than I would have. After the second creepy thing, I would have been out of there. But horror movies are supposed to push you past your limits. Where else outside of haunted houses do we intentionally scare ourselves for fun? I wouldn’t even call it fun…I’m not sure why we do it. Is it to make us feel lucky to be alive? Is it to remind us of our own mortality? Whatever your reason, you should be happy “Relic” is here to give you your next hit. For a genre with as many duds as horror, at least “Relic” will get the job done.