IFC Midnight’s Relic out today on VOD everywhere and in Drive-In theaters is something new. Similar to movies like Babadook and The Taking of Deborah Logan horror is explored through the hazy focus of human emotion and disease. Sharing some of the same bones as those other movies doesn’t make them twins. In fact, they are more like distant cousins that are all uniquely weird, even if they share the same dimples and eyes. The highly allegorical Relic takes genuinely creepy imagery, tense moments of claustrophobic of despair, and believable performances to create a film that is bone-deep scary.
Relic stars Emily Mortimer(Kay) and Bella Heathcote(Sam) as a mother and young adult daughter who have come to Kay’s childhood home to find Kay’s mother, Edna(Robin Nevin), who has mysteriously vanished. The elderly woman has been slipping for years into dementia, but Kay and Sam both thought she was not suffering as badly as she was. Sam sees her beloved Grandmother as most grandchildren do, with kindly indulgent eyes. Grandchildren don’t have either the experience or the desire to recognize trouble until it is obvious. Kay knows her mother has been having problems, but she has a child of her own to worry about and a life that keeps her plenty stressed out. Impatience, irritation, and guilt make for a nasty dish that no one wants to eat warm or cold.
Families are messy. Even the best family has baggage. Some have entire tanker trucks full of luggage with sick and filth oozing out of the broken zippers. For families struggling with aging parents, mental illness, and lifetimes of regrets, it is an uncomfortable time that mourns the closing of one chapter and a possible clairvoyant view of the future. In the well-paced final act, the house acts as a jailor to confine the three women. Each must find their own salvation, whether that’s together or separately That is essentially what Relic is about. Can you ever escape the inevitable? However terrifying, is it better to accept it or fight against that dark night? Here’s all you need to know about that powerful ending.
The House Is A Trap Not A Lifeline
For many older people, their house is the final piece left of their younger lives. They hold onto them even as they crumble around them. That is precisely what is happening to Edna. The decay of our minds and neglected houses are the excruciatingly unsettling focus. She desperately clings to her independence and every crumbling memory the house holds. Unfortunately, her home has become an anchor and not a lifeboat. When all three women are separated, the structure changes to wall off first Sam and then Kay from each other.
It prevents them from leaving or helping Edna. Clearly, Edna views her house as a memory palace. She refuses to admit there is a problem because it would mean she was no longer self-sufficient. The decrepit home filled with newspapers, ancient photos, and ages of familiar clutter becomes a living embodiment of her mind. Is the house trying to hurt Mom or help her? In the end, the house wants Edna to evolve into something “different” and die alone. Only through surrender are Kay and Sam able to understand and help Edna
The Spreading Stains
In dreams, water staining, especially from the ceiling, is representative of anxiety. Some boundary emotional or physical is not as secure as you would like it to be. For Edna, the border is her brain and memory of her former self. The house and Edna both manifest several spreading stains throughout the movie. Edna’s progressing dementia is the obvious answer for the stain, but that isn’t the entire story. As her mind betrays her, the house falls further into ruin as well as suggesting they are connected in some way. Although Relic doesn’t explicitly say it, Edna’s disease is viewed by Kay and Edna before her as a rotting cancer that affects everyone around her. For anyone who has ever had a loved one suffer from a similar disease, the comparison is fair.
You Can’t Fight Mother Nature
Are we all doomed to become our parents? Like the hilarious Progressive Insurance commercials, only NOT funny at all, Relic forces us to look in the mirror and face the truth. As much as we fight against becoming judgemental like our mother or too distant like our father, it is often unavoidable. We don’t literally become our folks, and some mistakes can be corrected, but anyone who has heard their parents’ voice come out of their own mouths knows it’s a reality.
Edna tries repeatedly to eat photos and other mementos as a way to contain her memories. It is a fervent attempt at combatting whatever is taking over. She says she needs to do that to keep them safe. Perhaps by ingesting the notes and pictures she is able to hold onto the essence of who she is before transforming into her new form. The note on the form seems to indicate that is the case.
Acceptance Is Key
The dark moral of Relic is reminiscent of another suspenseful film Wait Until Dark. In the 1967 classic, Audrey Hepburn, who is blind, accepts her loss of vision and uses it against a murderer who has broken into her home. Once Kay accepts what is happening to her mother and instead embraces the change, all three women find peace. Relic is about becoming someone different than you once were and fear that your family will still love you. The final scene indicates family will love you, and genetics are inevitable. Read our formal review here before you head out to the theaters or stream it tonight.
The disturbing and oddly emotional final scene shows Sam, Kay, and Edna all laying together after Kay helped Edna shed her human skin, revealing something fresh underneath. Kay finds one of many notes Edna left to remind herself of her life. The simple yet powerful words say it all. It reads, “You are loved”. For better or worse, families stick together.
The carvings Edna does throughout the film act as foreshadowing. Just as she creates something unique from the red flesh with her knife when Kay peels back the layers of Edna’s skin she makes way for a new entity. It doesn’t matter if Edna is now a demon, monster, or simply diseased. She is forever changed, and each woman acquiesces to their future fate.
Relic is a haunting look at aging, and when our minds and bodies betray us. Who will love us and help us? It is also a powerful message about the cycle of life and the heartbreaking emotional toll it takes on those who must care for the elderly while looking into a crystal ball. The thoughtful film is as heavy on scares as it is on provocativeness. Catch it everywhere VOD and in select Drive-In theaters now.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.