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John’s Horror Corner: Relic (2020), a geriatric horror about senescence, family duty and human frailty.

August 2, 2020

MY CALL: This is a thoughtful slow burn with a lot going on. The themes explore hallucinatory madness, real world dementia, and toe the line of the supernatural—with much left to our interpretation. The most powerful element of this film is how grounded it remains in our fragile humanity; our denial and aversion, coupled with our acceptance and compassion. MORE MOVIES LIKE Relic: For more geriatric and senescence horror, try The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), Bubba Ho-tep (2002), Late Phases (2014) or The Visit (2015).

For additional Australian horror movies, try Razorback (1984), The Howling III: Marsupials (1987), Dark Age (1987), Wolf Creek (2005), Rogue (2007), Black Water (2007), Lake Mungo (2008), Wyrmwood (2014), Charlie’s Farm (2014), Cargo (2017) and Boar (2017; podcast discussion).

We all hope for a long and healthy life. But there remains a terrifying prospect linked to longevity: that our minds may degenerate prematurely to our bodies and that our “self” will be lost in the cruel fog of dementia.

Such is the case when Kay (Emily Mortimer; Shutter Island, Scream 3, The Ghost and the Darkness) and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote; The Neon Demon, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) come to the aid of their aging and missing matriarch Edna (Robyn Nevin; The Matrix Reloaded).When Edna eventually reappears in the house, she seems fine but has no account for the days she had been missing. Edna’s waning grip on reality is evident as she very clearly forgets things and believes she is being shadowed by something; something else in the house.

The emotional beats don’t land with the intensity or gut-punching precision of Hereditary (2018), but it still makes its point effectively. There’s no denying the family hardship faced by these three generations of women. The strain is uncomfortable to watch, and we find much sympathy for Edna as her sense of awareness gradually crumbles. Her mind shares the state of disrepair with her home, and she clearly needs help.

As if decaying along with Edna’s mind, black mold slowly spreads about the house. Intriguingly, the images of black mold are quite off-putting (there’s just something about its appearance), much as the mentally off-putting reaction to senescence. Brief visions of the elderly coupled with extreme bodily decay may prove very disturbing.

Things don’t really move as quickly as I’d like, but I certainly remained very intrigued and weirded out until the pace did finally pick up in the third act. The last 20-30 minutes attain some satisfying oddities in visuals, effects and atmosphere. Things even get trippy, and we wander into some unexpectedly interesting special effects in terms of startling injuries, self-mutilation and fleshy latex. But despite some disturbing and horrific scenes, it all comes to a curious, ambiguous, yet still even tender ending.

Written (in part) and directed by Natalie Erika James, this is a tremendous success for her first feature film. This is a bit of a thoughtful slow burn, but there is a lot going on here—much more than I had expected. The themes explore hallucinatory madness, real world dementia, and toe the line of the supernatural—a lot is left to our interpretation. But the most powerful element of this film is how grounded it remains in our fragile humanity; our denial and aversion, coupled with our acceptance and compassion.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 4, 2020 11:50 am

    WordPress has been glitchy lately and won’t let me “like” this post. Anyway, sounds like an interesting watch. Yeas from now we’ll look back on this period of horror, with the slow burns and the underlying dread, and have a name for it.

    • John Leavengood permalink
      August 4, 2020 8:08 pm

      Slow Burn Horror seems to broad, more of a filter laid over a subgenre. How about “Dreadful Intrigue” horror? 😉

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