Trepidation Done Right
By Sadira Sittampalam
Relic is a 2020 horror film directed by Natalie Erika James following Kay as she witnesses her mother’s increasingly volatile behaviour after travelling with her daughter to their remote family home. Exploring themes of aging and unconditional love through its titular character and her connection with her house, this film smartly navigates its twists and turns to produce a film that is both intelligent and gripping.
When her mother (Edna) goes missing, Kay and her daughter go to her house to start the search for her. Edna mysteriously turns up back at the house three days later with no memory of what happened. Soon after her return, they start to feel a sinister presence haunting the house. As far as horror movies go, this film actually did put a lot of effort into its storyline and how it links up with its themes and its concepts. This film has a similar concept to 2006 animated horror movie Monster House, and doesn’t go about revealing itself too soon. Instead, the atmosphere is gradually built up as more and more strange happenings occur.
The constant and ever-changing mysteries also helped keep up the fear throughout the movie, making you feel unstable in its groundings. The central metaphor that surrounds aging and forgetting also lent itself perfectly to its drama and the way all of its ideas were revealed was very subtle. It gave you a lot to think about even after you stopped watching and from time to time I kept going back thinking up new interpretations and understanding the characters more.
Atmospherically, this film really manages to push you into the cinematic world, trapping you inside the confines of that universe, enclosing you in its meandering hallways. Unfortunately though, it was really dark during the whole experience. It is a pretty terrible way people try to make movies seem gloomier or more mysterious, and this film would have done perfectly fine as part of the horror genre without it so it is just a shame that so much of the screen was unclear. Other than that, visually, this movie had so much going for it. Its colour scheme that had a lot of ugly greens and pale yellows made you feel slightly sick, giving you a generally uneasy feeling. The camera moved smoothly and often closed up on the character’s faces for extensive periods of time also creating a sense of confrontation. Moreover, the jump-scares were kept to a minimum, instead relying on its tense tone and the constant feeling that something is lurking in the peripheral keeping us on our toes.
The soundtrack was also quite ominous and never revealed itself too much, keeping itself minimal and only affecting tone in a pretty minute way. Rather, the sound design was focused on making us pay attention to sounds that were unusual and strange. It did this really well and it elevated the horror element a lot. The gore in particular was expertly done as whenever it was required the squelches and squirts made me feel very uncomfortable and unwell. All the prosthetics and special effects were similarly up to par, making you feel uncomfortable and mildly disgusted while complementing the sound design.
I wasn’t personally affected by the drama, likely as I don’t identify with the relationships or conflicts portrayed in the movie in general but I understood or rather sympathised with everything the characters went through, highlighting how effective the direction of the movie is. The characters felt exceptionally realised and their relationships were complex and unique. The performances supplemented this with the three central actresses carrying the film through its frights and its fights.
The build-up of tension was also essential to the slow burn of terror. Everything feels tense and suspenseful but you can’t put your finger on what, and that makes it even more terrifying. Towards the end though, as the film devolves into the classic horror tropes, you start to lose faith in the fear. These scenes were pretty long and dragged out and although you have to run into these clichés at some point, I feel the director didn’t properly identify it as a cliché. Nevertheless, the ending more than makes up for it, as all the missing pieces start to fit together and everything comes to a nice neat conclusion that doesn’t leave any open endings or any hanging plotlines for a potential sequel.
As James’ debut feature, this is a pretty realised film with a clear vision that was all nicely fulfilled. Offering a ride full of trepidation, this film creates an expertly crafted atmosphere of dread, adding up to a really great piece of entertainment that gives you everything you need from a movie.