Three generations face the manifestation of dementia, as a matriarch’s disappearance draws her daughter and granddaughter to her secluded locale. When the aforementioned missing member of this family returns proceedings continue to spiral downwards, taking a devastating turn.
James shows an adept skill behind the camera as she teases out mystery and a sense of impending tragedy. This is an intimate affair, mostly contained in a familial home with a narrative that draws off the secrets contained there. Charlie Sarroff’s cinematography drenches the film in an affective gloom that marries well with Brian Reitzell’s atmospheric score. There is a grief that washes over the film, a loss that speaks to the lived-in experience that anyone has had as they face the gradual decline of those with dementia.
The cast are all universally good, particularly our central trio (Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote). James’ precision often limits the number of stand-out moments for this set, which feels an opportunity lost. But Relic isn’t that kind-of film. It feels too deliberate, too careful in its construction to have one performance dominate proceedings. There are moments where each of the cast stand out, but it all feels a part of what James’ direction is working towards.
If there is a weakness to Relic it is that it struggles to maintain the precision displayed during the first act. As the horror becomes more pronounced it can feel like the film gets a bit lost in its material. But it all works towards an effective climax and marks James as a talent to keep an eye on. It’s a sad, affecting piece that spoke to me far more than I expected, whose domestic horror feels close to home. This isn’t a horror that necessarily thrills or offers expected genre tropes. Instead its power comes, much like The Babadook, from exploring a topic born from a genuine grief. You won’t regret the journey but it may leave need of a stiff drink and a quiet moment alone to collect your thoughts.