- Emma Simmonds
- 26 October 2020
The nightmare of dementia is explored in this smart horror from Natalie Erika James
Horror is frequently at its most effective when it draws heavily on real-world challenges, getting under our skin by playing on things we have experienced, or fear that we might. The prevalence of dementia, and common anxieties around aging, means that many will relate to this unsettling portrait of a family thrown into crisis when an elderly matriarch goes missing and returns not in her right mind.
The feature debut of Melbourne-based, Japanese-Australian filmmaker Natalie Erika James, who co-wrote the screenplay with Christian White, sees the degenerative illness take the shape of something even more sinister, infecting a woman's home, as well as her body. Robyn Nevin plays Edna, who we see standing hypnotised at the outset while a shadowy presence shifts in the background and bathwater pools at her feet. Her subsequent disappearance prompts the arrival of her worried daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) but Edna re-emerges soon after from the surrounding woodland, dirty and with no apparent memory of events.
There's a touch of the recent Hereditary in the chilly relationships and classy cast. Focusing on the female contingent of a family is fruitful, given where the burden of caring for elderly relatives predominantly lies. That this terrifying manifestation threatens to consume them all is potent, too, considering genetic predispositions and the psychological toll the disease takes on loved ones. The dynamics between the generations are plausibly portrayed, showing how mothers and daughters can develop more fractious bonds – Kay and Edna, and Sam and Kay clearly have their issues – but how it may be easier to be patient with someone who didn't directly raise you. Relic is a cleverly devised and carried-out horror that tangles us up in the ties that bind.
Available to watch in cinemas and on demand from Fri 30 Oct.