Relic Review – Haunting Tale Filled with Suspense and Intrigue

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Relic, from IFC Midnight, brings to the screen a riveting layered story that begins with a missing parent, gone for two weeks, her sudden return, the haunting and bizarre behavior that follows, hidden secrets and decay.

Written and directed by Erika James, Relic stars Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin with Chris Bunton and Jeremy Stanford. Jake Gyllenhaal, along with Anna McLeish, Sarah Shaw, and Riva Marker produced.

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Relic begins as a film on aging. Matriarch of the family, Edna, played by Robyn Nevin, has disappeared. Her daughter, Kay played by Emily Mortimer, and her granddaughter, Sam, played by Bella Heathcote, are headed to her aging home unsure if they are preparing for a funeral or reunion.

Which is where the film begins. A phone call from a worried neighbor alerts the family that Edna hasn’t been seen in a while. Kay and Sam head out to the countryside, to the home where she has lived for her lifetime, the structure is rotting and the decay is obvious, a black mold is curling up the walls. Memories of her life as a young bride, a new mom, decorate the mantles and her craft as a candle wax carver is present throughout the home.

Working with the local police, the family prepares a search party and to comb the woods around the home looking for any sign of her. Soon Gram returns, as abruptly as she left and has no recollection of her absence. She is unable to tell Kay or the authorities any details.

As the film progresses Kay is obviously concerned about her mother’s well being and feels it may be time to consider assisted living residence. Sam prefers to move in with her and help around the house.

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Since her husband has passed, life is a bit slower, and with only the neighbor to look in on her, the house has fallen into disrepair. Kay has moved away, married, and divorced, and Sam, without direction, but obvious devoted to her family even as she skips over her mom’s words of wisdom to hear the morsel of truth from Gram.

The future became more uncertain as Gram is caught by Kay talking to herself, addressing an unseen person, and is deeply concerned that this shadow is following her. With each of these bizarre incidents, Gram’s resistance to the control from this unseen and controlling being has Kay and Sam believing that she is experiencing dementia, or is the victim of an Satanic presence, or a vagrant is hiding in the interior of the home and trying to cause her go insane.

Gram’s forgetfulness is seen throughout the house as she uses post-its to remind herself to remember simple tasks. The issue becomes more severe when she begins to give her possessions to her granddaughter and then accuses her of stealing.

As they both try to come to grips with the severity of the problem, the house, which was once in pristine shape has, like Gram, aged. The house, once lively and full of life, with children, parties, celebrations, slowly waned into the shrine of memories and with it the lifeblood also.

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Throughout the film, the family all hear a persistent knocking as if someone or something was trying to escape from within the walls, and as we find out when Sam decides to hunt down the noise, the house with hidden rooms, and internal corridors, is hiding its own secrets behind the walls.

All three generations of women are brought together through trauma and a powerful sense of strength and loyalty to face the ultimate fear together. 

Relic is surprisingly good. Mixed with horror and suspense the film starts slowly and leads the viewer to believe it is simply a film about parental aging, and the challenges of dementia. As it progresses, the film takes a sinister turn, and the tentacles of Satanism are clearly presents.

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Each of the stars, Emily Mortimer, Robyn Niven, and Bella Heathcote are excellent. Chris Bunton, an actor with Down’s Syndrome, gives an outstanding performance as Jamie and enjoys a nice scene with Sam (Bella Heathcote).

Relic had its World Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019 to critical acclaim, praising the film as a fresh and terrifying twist on the notorious haunted-house tale.

Relic is set for a July opening. See it.

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