Relic

★★★

“Relic,” which played at drive-in theaters over the July 4th weekend and will be available on VOD beginning Friday, July 10, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 25, 2020 to positive notices. By COVID-19 standards it was an unmitigated hit, grossing $282,000 at 69 drive-ins. It’s the biggest opening weekend a movie has had in almost three months.

“Relic” concerns Kay (Emily Mortimer) and her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote), who arrive in Queensland, Australia when Kay’s mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin, former head of the Sydney Theatre Company), goes missing. The aged Edna eventually returns home, but acts erratically. Kay and Edna appear to have beef with one another. Sam is quick to defend her grandmother.

Edna seemingly can’t remember how to do anything and has Post-it Notes slapped up all over her home with instructions for the simplest of things. Kay wants to place Edna in a Melbourne retirement home. Sam has intentions of moving in with Edna and taking care of her. Shit goes sideways from here.

It’s hard to write much about “Relic” as it’s a short film (89 minutes) and a SLOW burn. There’s not a lot to delve into plot-wise, but plenty to tackle thematically. The movie certainly serves as an analogy for aging, its effect not only on the individual but their family as well and the traits/scars parents pass onto their children. Clear-cut answers aren’t given and much is open to interpretation.

The trio of actresses on whom the film focuses are all excellent. Mortimer is an actress I’ve always dug. (The fact that she reminds me of a friend of mine doesn’t hurt in the slightest.) She was super-creepy in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” and super-likable on HBO’s “The Newsroom.” Heathcote is a lovely and talented young actress, but I can’t unsee the things she did in Nicolas Winding Refn’s “The Neon Demon.” Pairing the two of them together as mother and daughter in a genre project gives me serious Gabriel Byrne in “End of Days” urges. (Mortimer isn’t even 16 years Heathcote’s senior and there’s no mention of her being a young mom in the movie.) I don’t know much about Nevin outside of her work in the much-maligned “Matrix” sequels, but she’s electric here.

“Relic” is the feature directorial debut of Australian director Natalie Erika James. She co-wrote the movie with Christian White, with whom she collaborated on the short “Creswick.” James had an arsenal of powerhouse producorial talent in her corner – Jake Gyllenhaal produced the picture while the Russo brothers executive produced. While the flick wasn’t my particular brand of vodka, James shows talent and it’s cool to see a woman making her mark on the horror genre. There’s a shot of Heathcote crawling through a narrow corridor late in the picture that she collaborated on with cinematographer Charlie Sarroff (DP on most of her shorts) that was jaw-droppingly good. James shows enough talent that I eagerly anticipate whatever she does next.

“Relic” is essentially the Wish version of writer/director Ari Aster’s “Hereditary.” While I found the film somewhat derivative of its better, there’s still enough original material here to make it worthy of recommendation. It’s not every day you see a movie where an old lady’s cleavage serves as a major plot point and a mentally handicapped individual is depicted toking a joint.

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