The comparisons to "Hereditary," Ari Aster's febrile masterpiece of familial dysfunction, are inevitable, and while James doesn't quite reach that film's perturbing depths she brings a different insight.
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The kind of dread-infused slow burn that’s very much in vogue at the moment, Relic is so entirely, transparently, even explicitly about the horror of dementia and losing a loved one to it that the more traditional genre elements—like a potential supernatural presence in the house—feel rather redundant, maybe even unnecessary.
Relic is the latest possession movie to peel back its characters slowly, layer by fragile layer, getting at the secrets that lie just below the surface.
A slow-burn haunted house movie becomes a disturbingly effective allegory for the ravages of dementia, which spreads like insidious rot from the afflicted into the family members witnessing her deterioration in Relic.
Not everyone will appreciate the ambiguity of a climax that can be read as either an uplifting act of pure and selfless love or a depressing capitulation to the malign forces of inevitable decline, but either way, “art-house horror” has its 2020 tidemark set high.
It’s undeniable that Relic contains three stellar performances and an indelible image of multi-generational love and care in the face of slow annihilation, with mothers and daughters trying desperately to help each other approach the inevitable.
Despite minor misgivings, it is a thoroughly engaging horror film with more on its mind than simply building to a climax. This is a poignant observation on aging and death that is supported by a trio of knockout performances and a female-heavy production.
This is spooky on an effects and story-telling level, downright chilling on a personal one.
Relic, with a script co-written by James and Christian White, is filled with subtle detail, character depth, and a creeping mood of dread, illuminated by the three central performances given by Nevin, Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote.
The film heralds the arrival a bold and formidable voice in horror cinema.