With the pandemic still laying waste to all new releases in the foreseeable future, it was a genuine and delightful surprise to see Relic (2020) appear on Stan under “coming soon". This wasn’t like Vampire Dad (2020) where I saw the ad and had the instant gratification of watching it straight away. I had to wait. I saw the trailer and then waited, with anticipation, to watch a new horror film. I haven’t felt this way since Miss Fisher & the Crypt of Tears (2020). Ah, simpler times. When movies came out in cinemas and I wore pants.
Anyway, Relic (2020)! Despite it releasing on Stan late last week, I had to wait until today because a) it was too spooky scary for my wife and b) it was too spooky scary by myself at night. But my wife had work today, and I didn’t have pants on, so it was the perfect time to get spooky scary.
I hate to be the one, and I don’t doubt I’ll be the only one, but I’m just gonna have to be the one to say it: you can’t help but compare it to The Babadook (2014). I don’t think we should, they are stylistically very different films, but they are both Australian horrors that are first-time features for female directors using a monster that’s clearly symbolic of an human problem. In The Babadook (2014), it’s grief. In Relic (2020), it’s dementia.
Where the two differ, I feel, is that Relic (2020) really wears this symbolism on its sleeve. Honestly, at no point did I really believe there was an evil entity because I was so focused on the dementia aspect, that the entire third act threw me for a loop. I had to rewind to make sure I didn’t miss something when sh*t went down. And it did indeed go down.
I guess you could say that the real monster was the dementia we gained along the way.
Three generations of women get haunted by dementia house. When I say it like that, it sounds stupid, but it’s very hard to try to make this stuff funny, okay? Cut me some slack!
As I said above, the dementia aspect is very clear from the get go, as almost the entire first act is essentially them looking for the missing grandmother, who is suffering from dementia. As we roll into the second act, the film starts exploring the way dementia affects the daughter and granddaughter and it’s genuinely horrific. It’s slow, it’s uncomfortable, but it provides real horror. As someone dealing with relatives who have dementia at the moment, it felt real.
This on-the-nose approach does give the third act an odd, disconnected feel from the first two acts. The first two make a real slow burn horror out of the dementia as dementia, and when the third act comes along it is a more visceral, action-packed horror, with mind-bending geography and bone-snapping stalkings. The Babadook (2014) did have an even crazier third act, but I feel the presence of the actual monster made me buy in more. Here, I focused so much on the fact that dementia is a sickness, that when paranormal happenings started happening, it threw me for a loop.
Pictured: Ah yes, the happier times. When the only problem was your mum being missing.
It’s entirely possible that that is my fault for focusing on the wrong aspects of the film. Here I was, thinking I could outsmart it, but instead, it outsmarted me… or something…
I did watch the proof of concept short, Creswick (2017), afterwards, and I feel like the entity reveal in that is more impactful because I didn’t know dementia was directly involved that time. I’m not saying a 9-minute-film is better than a 90-minute-film, but I did buy into the story a bit more.
Okay, so you non-Australians might not know how infinitely frustrating it is that no actors seem to be able to fake a convincing Australian accent. When you’ve been soaking in this accent all your life and you don’t even hear it as an accent, when someone tries to fake it, it’s always painful.
I genuinely had to IMDb Emily Mortimer to see if she is Australian and I had never known. Spoiler alert, she's English, but her Australian accent is almost flawless. In a film where, to me, it sounds like no one has an accent, that is DAMN good work.
Of course, acting isn’t all accents. All three women are bringing home A-grade performances. It’s needed when you’re dealing with such heavy subject matter, so that makes sense. Director Natalie Erika James clearly knows what she’s doing. The direction had really great tension and rhythm, with each performance being nuanced and unique. The cinematography by Charlie Sarroff, returning from Creswick (2017) gave a suitably chilling and unsettling look to the whole film. The third act dealt with a lot more darkness than the rest of the film, so I can only imagine how hard it would have been to balance true darkness with visibility.
The house felt suitably labyrinthian, even when it wasn’t literally. I listened to an interview with the director talking about how it was inspired by her own fear of a family house, and if that house was anything like THIS house, I would’ve also been scared. Get the hell out of that house, damn it! Dementia or no, get out of the spooky scary house!
Pictured: If there's so much black mould that it's now growing on you, then it's time to just burn the whole house down.
There really are different types of spooky scaries. There are the spooky scaries you watch with friends and you shriek and spill popcorn and have a genuinely good time. And then there’s the spooky scaries you try to watch with friends but you all end up feeling uncomfortable by the end of it. No one's denying it wasn’t good, it just… wasn’t a group activity. The best example of that second category in recent memory would be Hereditary (2018). Amazingly good film; will never watch again.
Now I’m not saying I wouldn’t watch Relic (2020) again. Frankly, I kind of think I have to. What I am saying is don’t invite your girlfriend over and hope she’s gonna get scared and cuddle up, because by the end she’s just gonna end up calling her grandma because she doesn’t see her enough.