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With: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Jeremy Stanford, Chris Bunton, Christina O'Neill, Catherine Glavicic, Steve Rodgers
Written by: Natalie Erika James, Christian White
Directed by: Natalie Erika James
MPAA Rating: R for some horror violence/disturbing images, and language
Running Time: 89
Date: 07/03/2020

Relic (2020)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Truth Decay

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This horror movie has a pretty slow build, but when it kicks in, it does so with head-spinning impact, cleverly and dynamically achieving a visual, physical manifestation of its themes and emotions. Relic opens in drive-ins on July 3, 2020, and will be available digital/on demand on July 10.

Kay (Emily Mortimer) learns that her aged mother Edna has not been seen in some time. So Kay and her teen daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) drive from Melbourne to Edna's woodsy country home, and inside they find many odd clues, from post-it notes left everywhere to food left out for a non-existent pet.

Kay and Sam decide to stay there and wait, and strangely, one day Edna (Robyn Nevin) merely turns up in the kitchen, making tea. She has no memory of what happened, but sports a weird black bruise on her chest. A doctor recommends that someone look after her, so Kay and Sam stay on a bit longer. But increasingly creepy things begin to happen, including noises, nightmares, and a secret room with horrifying properties.

Directed and co-written by Natalie Erika James, making her feature debut, Relic focuses on the three women above any other spectacle. These are three generations, each attempting to understand and communicate with one another, and the younger members secretly fearing that they will also face the horrors of aging and decay. This emotional center drives the rest of the story. Better still, it manages to talk about dementia without seeming like an issue-driven movie.

With its vivid lighting, sound design, and set design, the movie has a strong, creepy haunted house vibe. As Kay and Sam poke around the house, so many seemingly innocuous objects begin to take on darker vibes, a chair, a stained-glass window, a ring, candles, etc.

But when things really start to get going in the final section, Relic builds some deeply terrifying moments, recalling Mark Z. Danielewski's great novel House of Leaves, and pulling off images of the imagination that might have even seemed unfilmable. Of course, nothing would have worked without the three nuanced performances, especially Nevin's in the most difficult role; her radical switchbacks in mood are scary, but human.

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