Relic (2020) is one of those horror movies that rely heavily on the tone and atmosphere to sell the fear. Writer and director Natalie Erika James and writing partner Christian White succeed in crafting a story that is clearly allegory first, and a horror film second. It is compelling, and is almost completely successful at filling the audience with dread while demonstrating character relationships that are complex and interesting.
No one has seen Edna (Robyn Nevin) for at least a week – so her daughter, Kay (Emily Mortimer), and granddaughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), return to their family home to figure out what may have happened. The house is in odd shape, with extra locks on doors and discussion of Edna’s paranoia of someone being in the house is brought up. It leads to an investigation into Edna’s mental health, and the possibility of supernatural elements arise.
It is apparent (and in the plot synopsis on IMDb, so arguably not a spoiler) that Edna is suffering from dementia. This serves a large part of the haunting that is being shown in the house. Walls have odd decay spots that seem to be spreading slowly, but yet menacingly. Edna has left notes for herself, and there always seems to be something just sitting in the darkness, but mostly out of sight. Nevin’s performance earns a ton of empathy, and also sells the creepiness. In many ways, her performance reminds one of elements of Jill Larson in The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014) – but this movie works much better overall.
The generational element brought in from the inclusion of Sam and the mostly-singular set of the house really makes one think of Hereditary. While Hereditary goes a bit more into the supernatural and leans a little more into the traditional horror elements like jump scares, the essence of Relic certainly seems to take some inspiration from it. The visual style is dark, and the elements of the house play such a vital role in the story’s success. Each detail of the house is key, from the window on the door, to the geography of the space, and the mysteries within the walls. This film managed to craft an atmosphere that was full of dread, yet felt simultaneously like home.
Relic had great performances as well as a heart-wrenching story that kept me engrossed for the full 90 minutes. There are elements of the story that felt required to make it a horror film which never really connected to the bigger picture. These little things hurt the film – or at least tarnish it slightly – but ultimately it does not affect the overall enjoyment of it. Relic earns the Decent Watch rating.