Relic (2020)

Director: Natalie Erika James

Running Time: 89 Minutes

Certificate: 15

Starring: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Steve Rodgers, Chris Bunton, Robin Northover, Catherine Glavicic

As the film opens, we bear witness to an overflowing bath. It's a simple mistake we often see made on telly, but there's something unsettling afoot. While the water spills down the stairs, elderly matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin) is frozen in place. Is she staring in the distance, lost in thought? Or has something caught her attention, which the viewers cannot see? It's a beginning which grabs you, as innocuous sights bear interesting question as to what's happening.

The next thing we know, Edna has disappeared. Arriving to the decaying home are her remaining family, daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer), and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote). They find something amiss, as there are new locks on the doors, a sweet neighbour has stopped coming round, and there are strange noises coming from the walls. When Edna suddenly returns, a sinister presence is felt, causing her to become more volatile.

For her feature debut, Natalie Erika James tells an effective metaphor for dementia, wrapped within a genre skin. Edna seems like a complete stranger at times, not recognising those close to her, while unaware of the harmful acts she's performing. It's an effective way to depict such a recognisable story, coming alive tremendously, despite the metaphor sometimes feeling heavy-handed. Perhaps it's a bit blatant, but the genre around it works very well. There's a dread-inducing feeling all throughout, as creepy imagery sends chills down your spine, and grisly practical effects are sure to make you shudder. Admittedly, some elements could've benefit from one more go at the screenplay, such as the location of the final act.

What's never forgotten is the human element, as the family members must cope with their loved one being so vastly changed. Sam is clearly close to her Grandma, wanting to help however possible, and Bella Heathcote captures that drive very well. She's willing to stay and look after Edna, an act that grants her the purpose she feels lacking previously. Back home, she goes through the motions working in a bar, while unsure if she'll return to university. Kay is a bit more worrisome, believing the best course of action is to put her mother in a home. She and Edna have been apart for a while, and the regret is conveyed so well by Emily Mortimer.

Most impressive is Robyn Nevin's turn as Edna, the matriarch who is so very changed by the circumstances. We get moments of warmth that feel so human, such as Sam teaching her how to cha-cha, which are contrasted by Edna's terrifying changes, as she viciously accuses somebody of stealing, and drops slurs about past friends. All she had left of her family was her memories and the house, but both are sadly deteriorating. Both the opening and closing shots focus on the front door, adorned by a stained-glass relic which has long been in the family. These bookending shots show how, much like the family, the item is forever changed by the circumstances.

Relic is available in cinemas, and to rent from Digital On Demand