Spoilers will wait in the car.
What would you rather watch, a well-made but unsettling movie that will leave you with a feeling of dread or a fun but mediocre movie? That has been my dilemma as of late. However, since it’s harder for a mediocre movie to be fun that it is for a well-made movie to be unsettling enough to regret it, I went with the unsettling choice. Did it left me with a feeling of dread? Yes. Do I regret watching it? No.
Relic (2020) was directed by Natalie Erika James who wrote it with Christian White. Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) travel back to see their mother and grandmother respectively, Edna (Robyn Nevin), after she’s gone missing. After she reappears without explanation, Edna starts displaying increasingly strange behavior while Kay and Sam notice strange occurrences inside the house.
The house is basically the fourth character in this film. It is not a particularly typical haunted house, but it is a house that has been lived in for a long time. It’s full of clutter and closets that have not been open in a while. The movie takes a long time until the strange events really go from eerie to threatening, and the ride is worth the wait for the most part. Don’t expect a big monster, a demon or an alien. The scariest things are those closest to you.
There’s superb performances by everyone in the cast, starting with Robyn Nevin’s surreal portrayal of Edna. You really feel for her character one minute and are terrified of her the next. I do love the subtle hints in the background. You see certain shadows that are almost out of frame or in passing so you might discard them if you’re not on your toes.
It’s not flawless, no movie is. The movie does draw parallels to aging and mental afflictions like dementia, but I’d rather take the movie only at its supernatural face value. It’s not that I don’t see the allegory, it’s that I’d rather not make the association between horror and mental disease. Some things are intentionally left ambiguous for the audience to decide, which I appreciate but not everyone likes to reach the end of the story without a full explanation. I think it works better this way, but your mileage may vary.
Recommended with reservations. I wanted to like it, but at the same time the performances just pull you in so you suffer what they’re suffering. I do have to say, I kinda need to switch up horror genres because after two really well-made but taxing horror films (I saw The Nightingale last week), I’m more in the mood for something fun lately – which doesn’t necessarily put horror out of the picture. Consider that if you want to watch it. It is well crafted, and a slow burn with great performances but it’s hard to call it enjoyable.
That will do for now.