(BFI London Film Festival, October 9th, 2020, 8:45 pm, BFI Player, Booking opens September 21st, 2020)
When Edna (Robyn Nervin), the elderly and widowed matriarch of the family, goes missing, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) travel to their remote family home to find her. Soon after her return, they start to discover a sinister presence haunting the house and taking control of Edna.
When octogenarian Edna inexplicably vanishes from the town of Creswick, her daughter Kay and granddaughter Sam rush to their family’s decaying country home and find clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. As Kay discovers mounting evidence her mother is suffering from dementia, creeping dread turns to sheer panic; Edna could be anywhere. Kay is overcome with guilt; Edna had called her several weeks prior, fearful there was an intruder coming into her house. Did Edna simply wander off and get lost, or was she taken? When Sam and Kay start to notice eerie and mysterious happenings around the house, they begin to fear the latter. Suddenly, as inexplicably as she disappeared, Edna returns; with no memory of the past several days, or at least none she’s willing to share. After Edna returns, Kay’s concern that her mother seems unwilling or unable to say where she’s been clashes with Sam’s unabashed enthusiasm to have her grandma back. Initially there comes a wave of relief, but Edna’s unsettling behaviour makes it clear she can no longer manage living on her own. Kay, haunted by her guilt and childhood nightmares of a mould-infested cabin and elderly relative abandoned in it many years ago, is faced with a difficult decision about whether to move her mother into an aged care facility. Sam won’t support the idea and instead decides to move in with her 'Gran' to look after her full-time. What Sam sees as a selfless act, Kay thinks is naïve, and mother and daughter are pulled further apart. While Kay travels to Melbourne to take a tour of a retirement village, Sam discovers caring for Edna is more challenging than she first envisioned. However, as Edna’s behavior turns increasingly volatile, both begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her.
Edna is the manifestation of the monstrous force destroying the house or just it's most vulnerable prey. Edna is prone to sudden, almost violent outbursts and worse, seems to be changing. Is this simply the horrors of dementia or is something more sinister at play? Disturbed by her 'Gran’s' swings in behaviour and in an effort to understand what’s going on, Sam visits her neighbour and learns Edna had aggressively locked young Jamie (Chris Bunton) in her closet. Returning to investigate, Sam discovers a cramped, seemingly endless labyrinth within the walls of the house and is hit with a jarring realisation; is this where Edna went missing? Sam then becomes trapped in the claustrophobic, moulding maze herself. Meanwhile, Kay has made a decision, she wants to make amends and care for his ageing mother. Edna, in a lucid moment, agrees to return to Melbourne. Things unravel when Kay, horrified, later discovers Edna locked in the bathroom shedding her skin, revealing a moulded flesh underneath. Alarmed, Kay follows Edna into the labyrinth within the walls, where Edna quickly turns savage and monstrous. Kay’s guilt-riddled nightmare is coming to life as Edna sheds more and more skin, further exposing a blackened, skeletal creature within. Amidst the horror in the walls, Kay is reunited with Sam as they both fight to survive and reconnect as mother and daughter. After violently attacking the monstrous form that's Edna in an attempt to protect Sam, Kay unexpectedly discovers the creature underneath is not what she thought and that if she's to end the sinister manifestation of dementia that has it's grips on her family, she must come face to face with what has been abandoned for too long.
Edna is the character at the centre of an unrecognisable decline. Edna is a character with charm and a dry, acerbic wit and skilfully captured She's’s vulnerability and her uncertainty as her body and mind start to deteriorate. Because she’s suffering from 'Alzheimer’s' which is a terrible blight on anybody’s life. It’s very difficult to understand the innerworkings of the mind of someone who's suffering from this condition. The transformation of Edna to the other has several stages and involved close collaboration between makeup, prosthetics, animatronics, stunt and visual effects departments. That remains a mystery to all of us. But there’s also a terrible sadness in such a character, for obvious reasons. "Relic" slowly devolves into a horror and genre space, mirroring Edna’s mental and physical deterioration. Edna’s descent into the other demonstrates that there are more horrific things than simply death. What’s worse is grieving for the loss of someone while they're still alive; it's the degradation of once brilliant minds, kind souls, and a treasured lifetime of memories; it's the feeling of becoming a stranger to the person who brought you into the world; these are the true terrors.
Kay in particular, comes across as quite a severe character. She’s such a gracious and generous character. We can relate to Kay’s plight. It’s not a stretch to imagine yourself in this situation. It’s incredibly relatable because we’re all in a family. And family relationships are always complex. And you always feel guilt and regret and resentment and love and all these things in equal measure. And constantly one of these emotions is being replaced by another and back again. Sam is unpretentious. She doesn’t pull any punches. She’s tough. She seems pretty within her own skin. Each of us are depicted as very flawed, and human, and we still have full capacity for joy and love towards each other, and all of those things aren’t mutually exclusive. It’s a story about complex family dynamics coping with someone who has dementia and the ramifications, and the horror, the real-life horror of dealing with an elderly relative who starts losing their grip on reality and how it does affect and infect, the whole family in ways that are at times, horrifying. "Relic" slowly descends into the genre horror space. And that's certainly a conscious decision, mostly to mirror the experience of someone going through dementia or 'Alzheimer’s', and the people around them. Changes that feel small and benign to begin with, just a bit of forgetfulness, become much worse, andthat’s what's trying to depict on screen. The film plays with the line between what’s imagined in the character’s mind and what’s real. Sometimes the supernatural, or the seemingly supernatural, has a real world explanation. That’s something the film plays with in there’s always two possibilities to each question. The film crafts an unforgettable haunted-house movie highlighted by unsettling sonic and visual design and complete with literal bumps in the night, while gracefully incorporating the all-too-real terror of facing a deteriorating loved one. All three characters frayed family chemistry.
Stylistically, the film optes for a largely natur alistic approach, leaning heavily on practical lights. More restrained in the first, the film, embraces darkness and shadows as events start to unravel, shifting to a more claustrophobic, handheld approach. Stylistically that marries in well with the emotional states of the characters, especially Edna, whose mind is retreating to the darkside of dementia. The main location, Edna’s house, is a combination of two real locations and a studio build, with the design and construction teams working closely to ensure the result is seamless. The film evokes what's happening to Edna, her loss of memory and identity and disorientation in spaces she inhabits. The house, like it's owner, has a faded glamour. It's once elegant but since the death of her husband and the onset of dementia, Edna has let parts of the house go. Conveniently, areas of the house used for exterior, garden and kitchen, had suffered some similar neglect and did not need much dressing. Many of the rooms in the house are elegant, warm and inviting but now disused or neglected, a pile of unread mail and newspapers at the front door, dust on the dressing table, flowers which have long since withered are still in a vase forgotten or unnoticed. The set dressings suggest Edna’s loss of memory, identity and purpose, at once familiar and unfamiliar. In particular the film creates spaces where things are hidden, where darkness is at the edge of frame and doesn’t reveal all the information to the audience. It's about the idea of something being hidden. So you’ll notice in the film, there’s always areas unseen. There’s often things obscuring frames or spaces falling into black; always stemming from the idea of what you can’t see. The creation of the labyrinth which is a visual metaphor for Edna’s mind and the experience of someone with dementia feeling within the walls of their own home.
The inspiration for "Relic" is drawn by 'Alzheimer' disease and looking the changing relationship between grandmother, daughter and granddaughter. And the shifting dynamics within a family when the parent assumes the role of the child. At it's core, "Relic" explores the fear and heartbreak of dementia and ageing through a horror lens. Your grandmother suffers from 'Alzheimer’s'. You got around to seeing her, it turns out you'd left it too late; she didn’t recognize you. The guilt is hard to swallow. At a certain level, it feels worse than death, to see your loved one progressively lose parts of themselves, and slowly become a stranger. That trip we observed how much the town has declined, all the younger generations choosing to relocate to the bigger cities, leavnn ing an aging community behind. There are horror stories about elderly people being found dead in their homes well after the fact, neglected and forgotten, their children in distant towns, their bodies starting to deteriorate. We could think of nothing more heartbreaking. Using a multigenerational story to create a character driven, emotionally resonant horror. The film explores the heartbreak and horrors of aged dementia, the importance of human connection and the shifting roles and dynamics within a family.