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MOVIES: Relic - Review (LFF 2020)

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Natalie Erika James’ Relic is as an unnerving and as atmospheric as it gets and that is unfortunately one of the only few things it does well as it ultimately proves to be a disappointment. In terms of scheduling for the London Film Festival this year (its first presented digitally at home) it felt odd watching a horror movie at 9:30 in the morning, but I needn’t have worried – it went out of its way not to scare you in its approach which unfortunately felt too familiar and predictable especially to those already familiar with arthouse horror films like Hereditary. It works on paper as a controlled descent into madness and insanity which becomes ever so apparant in in its final act that offers little in the way of surprise as you know exactly where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. The plot is at least intruiging from the offset before it crumbles quickly apart: Relic centres around a family in a labyrinth of a suburban household finding themselves being torn apart as their grandmother wrestles with forgetting who she is as a person. The film isn’t subtle in the slightest in regards to its allegories and doesn’t even try to hide it, leading to a rather dull experience. The Hereditary comparisons are obvious but perhaps one less so that the film springs to mind is the striking similiarites to M. Night Shyamalan's The Visit, only there is nothing as interesting or engaging as either.

I wasn’t quite convinced by all of the casting and directing decisions as everything here felt a little odd and out of place with its underlit slowburn style not doing it any favours. Its core central cast are hit and miss, Robyn Nevin is underwhelming as the central grandmother Edna, but at least her daughter and granddaughter, played by Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote, are convincing as both are forced into playing modern scream queens of different generations. Relic doesn’t take any new directions – there’s a standard home invasion sequence that feels like a homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre but is ultimately as half baked as they come and the film would have been much better off had it jettisoned its horror elements completely in favour of being a drama – which is not a good sign when Relic is marketed as a horror, it is at its best when dealing with the mother-daughter dynamic, but again, I believe that is also something that has been accomplished better elsewhere in the genre.

The haunted house movie tropes are there from the get go. The film doesn’t even try to hide them even as it presents itself as an arthouse film. Never has 89 minutes felt so long while watching it, the short runtime doesn’t pick up until the end of the film but by the time the claustrophobic final act hits it’s too little too late, even if the final shot lingered on my mind for a while it doesn’t add to the experience in the slightest and like the rest of the film it isn’t exactly new. The colour palette is pale and Relic utilises empty rooms to create suspense, often as ineffectively as everything else it sets out to achieve.

However, as a feature debut it’s something that regardless of its slow-burn approach and relatively boring nature, Relic does feel like it at least attempts to aim for ambition and it’s hard not to see James improving as director the more confident and risk-taking she becomes in the future. But unfortunately Relic, if anything, played it too safe and formulaic – making it the most underwhelming film from the London Film Festival so far as there’s only so much that Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote can do.

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