Man I love Aussie horror, some of the best horror films I’ve ever seen have been Australian.
From The Babadook to Wolf Creek, from Lake Mungo to Blackwater and The Loved Ones, they are always fearless, honest and brutal.
And they often have something to say, some subversive undercurrent to give the horror an extra push of relevance and emotion. Relic is yet another in that line of excellent psychological horror like The Babadook before it.
The story itself is a simple one, or at least it has a simple premise; Edna, the matriarch of the family, has gone missing. Her daughter, Kay, and granddaughter, Sam, arrive at her remote house in the bush to try and figure out what happened to her.
Between long-range searches, visits with the local Constabulary, and chatting to neighbours they piece together a timeline and get an idea of the challenges and difficulties Edna had faced and created in the months leading up to her disappearance.
And when she suddenly reappears at the house with apparently no memory or explanation of what happened to her forthcoming, it seems to her family that perhaps she brought something of a little strangeness back into the house with her.
Is the house haunted? Is it a portal to somewhere else? What is the strange banging on the walls they hear? Who is that old man in Kays flashbacks? What is the relevance of the abandoned cabin behind the property? What is that creeping black mould that seems to be overtaking the home? Is Edna even who she appears to be?
Dark, brooding and pregnant with portent, the patient viewer is rewarded with a thrilling finale that leads to a horrific but tender denouement.
For all intents and purposes this is a three-hander, and every actor here is exemplary, with Emily Mortimer quietly heart-breaking as the pressured Kay, Robyn Nevin as Edna and Bella Heathcote strong and real as Sam, invested in her family with the youthful arrogance of someone who has bitten off far more than she should be expected to chew.
It’s hard to pick a stand out but the nuance and range of emotion that Nevin manages to play across her face and her eyes without a word of dialogue is truly impressive.
Horror has given us some absolutely amazing performances that have been shamefully not embraced by the academy and I suspect this will definitely be another one of those, but without that snobbery in the film industry these performances would and should be recognised
The direction by writer/director Natalie Erika James is assured, intelligent and heartfelt.
This is a film of layers; the top layer is the traditional horror and it’s done well, but the layer underneath is the good stuff, the gold.
While this film in its entirety could be viewed as a metaphor, I believe that there are greater complexities here than that. A film you ponder for a long time afterwards, deeply effected and remembering with admiration the seeds of information that were sown throughout its runtime. I was surprised to find a film that made me a gasp in horror once or twice but also made me cry at the end.
A deeply personal experience, this one wears its heart on his sleeve and unashamedly so.
Not everyone will respond well to this, I suspect the gorehounds and the people who enjoy films like ‘The Slenderman’ et al – readily digested horrors that still litter the multiplexes – will not enjoy the measured, delicate pace and storyline, not the almost Arthouse subversity.
But I did.
I liked it a lot.