When elderly mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) inexplicably vanishes, her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to their family’s decaying country home, finding clues of her increasing dementia scattered around the house in her absence. After Edna returns just as mysteriously as she disappeared, 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. As Edna’s behavior turns increasingly volatile, both begin to sense that an insidious presence in the house might be taking control of her. With RELIC, first-time writer/director Natalie Erika James crafts an unforgettable new spin on the haunted-house movie. [IFC Midnight]
Several years ago I took a trip back to Japan to see my grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. It was a trip I’d kept delaying for one reason or another, and when I finally got around to seeing her, it turned out I’d left it too late – she didn’t recognize who I was. The guilt was hard to swallow. At a certain level, it felt worse than death – to see your loved one progressively lose parts of themselves, and slowly become a stranger.
The rural town where my grandmother lives is where I’d spent many of my summer holidays, attending the local primary school with my cousins. During that trip I observed how much the town had declined – all the younger generations choosing to relocate to the bigger cities, leaving an aging community behind. There were 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. I could think of nothing more heartbreaking.
It’s a combination of these things that became the starting point for Relic. Using a multi-generational story to create a character driven, emotionally resonant horror, I sought to explore the heartbreak and horrors of aged dementia, the importance of human connection and the shifting roles and dynamics within a family. Relic begins more firmly rooted in drama, and 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 are still alive; it is the degradation of once brilliant minds, kind souls, and a treasured lifetime of memories; it is the feeling of becoming a stranger to the person who brought you into the world – these are the true terrors.