Not everyone is frightened by ghosts, not everyone is frightened by brain-gobbling hordes of zombies, and the recent wannabe-edgy hype around serial killers has made for damn sure that not everyone's scared of those either. For more universal and inescapably "real" fears, we have horror films as stirring and remorseless as Relic.
Slowly but surely losing a loved one, especially during their proverbial "sunset years", is something we all must face - a claim I cannot make as confidently about ghost attacks and scary monsters. It is difficult to imagine anyone being spared of this experience; the grief, the rage, and yes, the insurmountable fear (accompanying the realization that we all share the same final destination, no matter what manner of sequel we've been promised by -INSERT BELIEF SYSTEM HERE-).
If you, like everyone else on the planet right now, are peckish for something new to enjoy in this unprecedented summer-movie drought, here comes a unique Australian horror movie to hopefully hold you over. Then again, I cannot guarantee you'll "enjoy" it per se, as it's a harsh one to process.
This film is remarkably well-made and nifty in its communication as it is, but since it also constitutes Natalie Erika James' moviemaking debut, some additional applause is in order. The way the shots are framed and moved; the increasingly maddening editing and production design; the sounds that suck us in further... you name it and James has probably got it. The biggest strength, however, may be that of the three leading actresses (Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote), each of a different generation with a different approach to the facts of the world; the elder woman vanishes for a brief time and confounding sights reveal themselves upon her return.
Even at its most fantastical, Relic functions as a parable for losing someone to the confusions and rough realities of age. Even as the character of Edna seems to briefly pass into another plane of existence, surely that's not too different from how those final years often seem to us onlookers (soon to be given our own dues by Father Time)?
The most effective parts of the movie have major influences from Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (which occupies my Top 3 books of all time alongside Cloud Atlas and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) but the maddening maze we're thrust into may yet represent the maze of the human mind, doomed to be impossible to navigate, or retrace, once we all reach that point. This is one of those films where I hope the younger and more mainstream horror fans stay clear, both for their own innocence's sake and for the sake of mature viewers' enjoyment.
Much like The Lighthouse and It Comes At Night, this is a horror film that goes beyond what most are used to; it's not about weird monsters and gore, but about the fears and anxieties that we all share in common and yet might make us hate each other (at least in the case of those other two films, which concerned paranoia, isolation, and distrust). This is what horror can do to us if we let it. It needn't all be ghouls, masks, and pop scares - not that I mind the more simple entertainment within the genre, if it's done well.
The pacing of Relic isn't the most fine-tuned and there are a few cheesy and inevitably clichéd moments; we do need to endure a few jump-scares but they are surprisingly effective here. A horror-based take on age and dementia is certainly an interesting one - even if the best movie on the subject will always be Haneke's Amour, which is more of a love story and an ultimate one at that.
Still, by Jove, James needs to continue making movies and continue to tap into the fears that unite us all.