It’s spooky season after all so why not tune into some indie horror for now? Relic, directed by Japanese-Australian Natalie Erika James in her feature debut and written by her and Christian White, tells a story of a family of three different generations when the grandmother goes missing from her house and her daughter and granddaughter show up for search parties or a possible return. Shifting gracefully between the mainstream frights and more arthouse-y horror, its limited main cast features Robyn Nevin (as Edna, the grandmother), Emily Mortimer (Kay, Edna’s daughter) and Bella Heathcote (Sam, Kay’s daughter). Despite lacking certain focus at times, there’s enough terror and levels for it to be thoughtful while the ending especially makes up for the ride.
Something nice to see in the genre is when the writers find a way to talk about more than supernatural or gory things because it adds to the longevity and makes you think for a while. Sure there’s grimy stuff that happens to Edna and those around her but there’s a real layer about dementia, not listening to the elder when they have something to say and watching your loved one slowly lose a part of them. The film’s scary sense of dread comes from realness of it all so it doesn’t have to rely on any cheap tricks. It’s confusing, terrifying and heartbreaking which Nevin perfectly gets across in her performance. Terror comes from her Edna’s outbursts, heartbreak from fading relationship with Kay and the confusion is for the viewer as you don’t know if you should think of Edna as good or bad.
Relic also uses its small budget to highlight the performances and story. Some fun is to be had with the production design as the haunting house reveals its tricks in the last third but the impressive sound work is around for the whole time. There is right timing found for the crashing, knocking, silence and the downplayed musical score which makes the film feel immersive. Actors and the plot are always reactive to the sound design. Only couple things take away some of the immersion, one of which is the use of colour. Sometimes there are fully dark shots which don’t work because the setting is confusing and we don’t know where we are. Colouring looks to have reduced shadows and the effect of light sources because the lighting is pretty consistent. Also some things happening outside the house seem half-realised (neighbours, Kay and Sam’s lives in Melbourne) but luckily the ending is fantastic. Practical make-up work, touching acting and layers of trauma bring the lost characters home.
Smileys: Story, ending, Robyn Nevin
Frowneys: Colouring, some directing and structure issues
It’s really just small stuff that could’ve been better to make Relic one of the better horror films of recent times, much of that is just too spoiler-y to write about.