Merging classic horror with an allegory of dementia, Relic is the debut feature from Natalie Erika James. Three generations of women converge on one increasingly dilapidated house, whose floor-plan quickly becomes as slippery as the matriarch’s grip on reality.
In a sprawling semi-rural property, unmistakably Australian for those familiar with that antipodean landscape and layout, Edna is disintegrating. Her house is too big; too loud and too quiet at once. In her eighties, she’s physically fit – her mind, though, is slipping. After the neighbours stop checking on her, the local police realise that Edna’s been MIA for a few days now. They telephone her daughter Kay: time to come home.
Kay arrives with her own daughter Sam, twenty-something and almost pleased to have something to do. She and Kay bicker about careers (‘Is your boss ok with you taking time off?’) but the pair can’t sustain much tension; they’re going to need each other more than ever over the next couple of weeks. After staying in the Edna-less house for a night or two, half-searching and half-waiting for her to return, Kay wakes one morning to the eerie whistle of an old-fashioned kettle on the stove. Walking into the kitchen, she finds her mother – and while Edna seems unhurt, she can’t be cajoled into explaining where she’s been.
The real question, of course, is whether she knows herself. Edna’s house is covered in post-it notes – reminders to ‘take pills’ near the packets by the bed, or ‘set the alarm’ by the door, are some of our first clues that she’s losing her memory. Another note, ‘don’t follow it’, catapults us into the fear which goes hand in hand with disorientation; almost immediately, we’re dealing with something more sinister than leaving the lights on. Relic plunges into the no-man’s-land of dementia: here, what you believe is what you experience.