Relic (2020) Movie Review - Middling Metaphorical Aussie Horror

Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 89 Min
  • Director: Natalie James
  • Actors: Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin, Bella Heathcote, Chris Bunton
  • Writers: Natalie Erika James, Christian White
  • Producers: Sarah Shaw, Anna McLeish, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker
  • Country: Australia, United States, China
  • Language: English
  • Parental: Injury Detail, Self Harm, Language, Rear Female Nudity
  • Drama, Horror, Mystery, Thriller | 89 Min

A daughter mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of dementia that consumes their family's home.

So does anybody fancy another horror movie that’s actually barely a horror and is really much more of drama? Well good, because today we are taking a look at Shudder original Australian “Horror” movie Relic.

Relic

Relic is a Shudder Original Australian Horror movie directed and written by first time feature length director Natalie Erika James. I say horror movie but that would be mostly incorrect. Relic is far more of a drama than it is a horror. Sure, there is very much a horror movie coat of paint over the surface of the movie but, deep down, it is still just a psychological drama film.

KAy from Shudder horror movie Relic

There are far too many moments of padding that really don’t need to be in the movie

Relic follows mother and daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote) as they return to Kay’s childhood rural home. Kay’s mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin), has not been seen for a number of days and so Kay returns to head up the search for her. Edna has been suffering recent bouts of memory loss and, despite still living alone and independently, her absence is alarming. As Kay’s search deepens, she slowly begins to uncover the deeper truth about her ailing mother.

Psychological Horror Epidemic

I genuinely believe we are in the middle of a non-covid related epidemic and The Babadook was patient zero. It feels as though every other movie available to watch on streaming sites is described as a psychological horror. Despite having virtually no horror elements at all.

Relic is absolutely one of those movies. In fact, I am more than willing to suggest that you avoid it altogether if you are sick of these kinds of movies. Sure it has atmosphere, sure it has things moving in the shadows, sure it attempts to keep you on edge with the threat of jump scares. But it is not a horror movie. 

Kay from Shudder horror movie Relic

Relic has a lot of moody light effects that look very nice.

So many horror movies are using stories about monsters or paranormal entities as allegories for mental illness, grief, or other human experiences. In my opinion, it’s all getting a bit tired and worn out. Sure, some of these movies are absolutely fantastic. But, at the end of the day, they are far closer to drama movies than they are to horror. This doesn’t mean that Relic is a bad movie. Relic is just what happens when you apply a horror filter to your drama movie. If you are tired of these types of movies or were never a fan in the first place. Relic won’t be the film that changes your mind.

The Good Parts

First and foremost, the acting is fantastic throughout. Emily Mortimer as Kay and Robyn Nevin as Edna are both excellent and thoroughly convincing. Robyn Nevin, in particular, puts on an amazing performance displaying range and depth to her character. She is entirely convincing in her role and really sets the tone. I can’t imagine this was an easy role to play but she is amazing and you feel real sympathy for Edna. There really isn’t a bad performance in the movie.

Cinematography is fantastic. The film feels suitably high budget and there are plenty of interesting shots with moody lighting. It actually reminded me a lot of Without Name in parts thanks to its heavy use of fog and the general dream like ambience.

Natalie Erika James has woven together a tense and claustrophobic atmosphere that actually manages to convince you that you are watching a fully fledged horror for at least some of the movie. There are scenes that are almost unnerving at times. I really hoped this would lead somewhere and it’s just unfortunate that it never does.

There is some really nice set work later on that turns the house into a metaphor all of its own with narrowing hallways and odd perspectives. It was all very Stanley Kubrick and was a nice, unexpected, change of pace.

The Not So Good

The pacing feels glacial, despite an 89 minute, or so, runtime the movie feels very long. I actually believe this would have worked better as a short. There is a lot of padding, flash backs, dream sequences, and mundane day to day stuff. It all just adds to the feeling that the movie is dragging its feet.

We don’t need to see Sam smoking a cigarette for a few minutes with the neighbour just to set up a layer of exposition. We don’t need to see Kay visiting an old folk’s home; we don’t care what the facilities are like, it’s not us moving a relative in there. All we need to know is that she went to visit and that’s enough. We don’t need to see Kay and Sam tidying the house and eating. We can assume they did that. It all felt very padded.

Kay from Shudder horror movie Relic

There are plenty of misty flashback dream like sequences

Despite the slow pace, when events start to culminate it seems to come out of nowhere. All of a sudden everything is going to shit, everyone is acting strange, and then the movie is over.

Definitely Not a Horror

It’s worth noting that Relic, despite presenting itself as a horror movie, is not at all scary. It has some degree of tension and atmosphere but that evaporates pretty quickly and as the events of the movie become more clear the tension dissipates further. The horror elements of the movie feel shoehorned in. It’s almost as if they had to hit a quota of horror tropes before they could be classed as a horror movie. Indeed, as I have mentioned earlier, Relic is not really a horror unless you consider the realities of aging and hereditary disorders horrifying.

Relic just feels a little bit pretentious. It has a message, albeit one that is not particularly suited to the horror genre, and it is very proud of itself for delivering this message. The message is delivered fairly effectively but its kind of like telling people that getting old can suck. We all know, there’s a lot of things that can go horribly wrong as we age and we all need to look after each other, and ourselves, wherever possible. The ending in particular feels a bit cheesy and the fart sniffing is in full force for at least the final 5 minutes.

Should You Watch Relic?

It really depends on your tolerance level for metaphorical, drama heavy, horror. Relic is a well acted movie that looks fantastic and is very proud of its message. It is not, however, a horror in the truest sense of the word. It is extremely slow paced and, despite having some degree of tension in parts, is very much a drama movie masquerading as a horror.

Outstaying its welcome before coming to a chaotic end, the hints of some potential scares never really come to fruition. If you enjoy traditional horror you will likely find yourself bored to tears and regretful that you wasted your time on something that is little more than a Hallmark drama film about the perils of aging. If you are a little more open minded and have a tolerance for stories with heavy handed metaphors, Relic may be for you.

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