There are some unspeakable horrors in the world, but one of the worst that can affect anyone is living with your parents.
It’s bad enough putting up with them when they’re ‘raising’ you, spouting out their know-it-all attitude as they do, and getting on your case about how its isn’t socially acceptable to stick your finger in there, either publically or in private.
Then there can be a quiet, relaxing spell during the middle bit of your relationship, where if you’re really lucky, you can avoid them for years.
And you should make the most of this period, as they come back to get the final laugh when they reach old age when you’re expected to look after them, just because you’re supposedly related.
Relic then is a tale of horror that examines the fragile nature of old age, and the often-strained relationships with family members that can come from it.
After receiving a call from concerned neighbours regarding elderly resident Edna (Robyn Nevin) not being seen for a couple of days, the police decide to notify her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) of the situation.
Kay and her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) quickly make their way to her remote home to check on her. They are concerned that after thoroughly checking the house, Edna is indeed missing.
Then, out of the blue, Edna returns, three days later. She acts as if nothing is wrong, but her appearance suggests otherwise, as she stands in the kitchen bare-footed and in her night clothes. This could well be attributed to her condition, suffering from dementia as she does, so it’s difficult to assess not only where she has been, but how she is now.
Kay and Sam stay on for a bit, just to make sure she’s OK, but the longer they stay in the old family home, the more they come to conclusion that perhaps there’s something far more sinister at play here.
One of the most impressive aspects regarding Japanese-Australian director James’ debut is that it was not only produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, but it also had the Russo brothers acting as executive producers. It’s a shame then that the film itself is the least impressive.
Visually the film works well, and James certainly piles on the atmosphere, possibly too thickly however. One of the main issues it faces may well be that there are only three main characters. Now when you’re trying to build up tension and suspense, having a larger cast to play with is a huge help. But when you have a cast where one member may well have a darker side, and only two possible victims to torture emotionally, a running time of an hour and a half can feel a really long time, as it undeniably does here, meaning the only thing being killed here is time.
You can use atmosphere effectively as much as you like, but if there’s no real pay-off, then all that atmosphere just drizzles down the wall. Which may well explain the film’s second issue.
There are two constant themes throughout Relic: old age and mould. And although old age isn’t necessarily treatable, mould certainly is. Edna’s house is riddled with it, and although her daughter Kay gives the aging house a thorough going over, the walls look a mess. You don’t have to go to the expense of buying a de-humidifier (which would most definitely help), just open a few of those bloody windows and let the house breathe. But no.
You can see why James uses it as a theme, as it certainly fits in with her visual palette. And with such a small cast, the mould almost takes on a character of its own, especially as it gets so much screen time. Let’s just hope that the Russo brothers don’t steal it for themselves, and use it in a spin-off Marvel project with a minor superhero being pitted against this mouldy menace.
To their credit, the cast – what little there is of it – work incredibly hard, but then again they really have no other choice.
You can of course draw parallels between the characters, and the scenario they find themselves in, with everything from mental health issues and the random nature of the aging process itself. The main reason you will probably give it some thought is because as atmospheric as the film is, it fails to thrill on any level, unless you have a thing for fungus.
It’s a film that’s all style over substance, and one with a terrible mould problem at that.