Synopsis: After receiving a call from the police about her elderly mother going missing, Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) return to the family home to investigate Edna’s (Robyn Nevin) disappearance. Kay and Sam search the dilapidated house but are unable to find any trace of Edna or an explanation for her absence. Although they do discover several sinister-looking damp patches (throughout the home). When Edna does return, she displays increasingly erratic and volatile behaviours. As the tension mounts, Kay and Sam begin to suspect that there might be something supernatural, lurking within the family home.
Relic (James, 2020) – not to be confused with The Relic (Hyams, 1997) – is clearly indebted to another recent Australian horror film, The Babadook (Kent, 2014). Rather cynically, I would pontificate that its director has meticulously analysed The Babadook in an attempt to create her own version of that commercially successful formula.The Babadook was a metaphor for depression, the horror lurking at the heart of this film is metaphorical for dementia.
Putting my cynicism aside, albeit briefly, it’s clear that first-time writer and director Natalie Erika James is a talented filmmaker. My hope would be that if the film is financially successful, that its director will go on to make something a little more original. While I do think James’ filmmaking is competent, I would argue that her most natural calling is as a deliciously savvy film producer. The film is being released in the UK in time for Halloween, so this will be especially true if it is a success.
As you might have deduced, I find myself in an odd position, whereby I almost admire the transparent cynicism that lies at the heart of the film’s creation. However, as with The Babadook, I find its use of metaphor far too heavy-handed and actually, on this front, James has even managed to outdo Jennifer Kent.
For example, there is the onset of the sinister damp patches that appear around the family home. The rot acting as a visual representation of the deterioration that is occurring in Edna’s mind. As Edna’s behaviour becomes more erratic and sinister, so we witness the damp patches increase in size and multiply around the home.
In another scene, Kay catches her mother trying to eat a selection of old photos. The symbolism suggesting that by ingesting the photos, those memories will always be a part of Edna forever. This concept is reinforced further when Edna attempts to bury her photo album, in what is a desperate attempt to protect and retain her memories.
Those examples are by no means exhaustive and that’s part of the problem. Then in the film’s finale, the dementia metaphor is made explicit. Rendered opaque, it’s crystal clear that the three generations of women are being pursued by a hereditary evil, not a supernatural one.
Now, I do not mind the utilisation of metaphor, in fact I would actively encourage it. However, it brings me little joy to be vigorously beaten around the head with one, for 90 minutes.
As a passionate fan of the horror genre, I was eagerly awaiting Relic’s release. Disappointingly, I find myself underwhelmed by its heavy-handed execution and its shameless recycling of The Babadook’s formula. Sadly, I think the film’s biggest problem is its biggest influence.
To put it succinctly, it’s derivative and far too focused on its commercial viability to warrant endorsement.
Relic is being screened as part of the BFI’s London Film Festival from the 10 to 13 of October 2020. It will be available to watch via the BFI Player and in selected cinemas across the UK. Relic is due for general release on the 30 October.