Relic (2020) | Film Review
Relic is a drama horror film, released in the United States on July 3, 2020. It is directed by Natalie Erika James, written by James White and Christian White and stars Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote and Robyn Nevin.
The film starts out from the perspective of Edna (Robyn Nevin). We see Edna in her house, standing in her living room, staring at a dark figure in the living room. Edna appears to have been interrupted while preparing to take a bath as she is naked and half-covered with a blanket in the doorway to the living room. Whatever is going on, Edna appears to be only focused on the figure in the living room and seems to be very frightened.
Next, we are introduced to Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote), who are looking for Edna, who is Kay's mother and Sam's grandmother. We learn that Edna has not been heard from for quite some time, and as she is elderly and lives alone, Kay and Sam are understandably very worried about her.
As Kay and Sam enter Edna's house, they become even more worried when they cannot find Edna and instead find notes that say things like, "Take Pills" along with other reminders. A bowl of fruit sitting on the counter has grown moldy, leading Kay and Sam to believe that Edna has been gone for quite some time.
Kay goes to the police station to report her mother as a missing endangered person and the police assure her that they will begin a search for Edna right away. The police organize a search party in the vast forest and Kay seems to panic at the thought of her mother getting lost in the woods and becoming injured or possibly dying in the woods alone.
The police continue to search for Edna over the period of several days and Kay begins to have disturbing dreams of an elderly man she finds in a house in the woods. His body appears beside a bed, sort of mummified and rotting at the same time. The window on the front door of the home Kay dreams of appears to be the same window on the front door of Edna's house, linking the two homes in some mysterious way.
As Kay contemplates where her mother could possibly be, Sam explores the house and questions the neighbors about Edna's past behavior, trying to figure out what had been going on before she went missing. Sam discovers more notes that Edna addressed to herself, but instead of being normal reminder notes, the notes state things like, "Don't Follow It" and "My Name is Edna", making it seem like something more sinister is going on. Not only that, Sam finds a sort of mold growing on several walls in the house, including the mysterious window Kay dreamed of in the house in the woods.
After several days of searching, to Kay and Sam's surprise, Edna suddenly appears in the house. Kay repeatedly asks her mother where she has been, yet Edna refuses to answer her or appease her in any way. A doctor checks Edna out and tells Kay the only thing that appears to be wrong with Edna is there is a rather large bruise on her chest (hmm, sure Jan, looks more like mold to me, but what do I know, right?).
The rest of the film follows Kay and Sam as they try to solve the mystery of the house in the woods, where Edna disappeared to when she was gone and what the mold in the house really means.
If You Like This Film, You May Also Like:
Still Alice (2014)
Alive Inside: A Story of Music and Memory (2014)
Lake Mungo (2008)
The Ritual (2017)
I Trapped the Devil (2019)
*Discussion contains spoilers and an explanation of the film
Honestly, I didn't like this movie when it ended. I didn't really understand what the mold meant or why Sam got lost in the hallways of the house, much less why Kay peeled off Edna's skin at the end to reveal a withered, black, suffering creature.
Looking for answers, I found an article online where the director of the film explains that the film is a metaphor for dementia and when Kay peeled off her mother's skin, it was really Kay accepting that her mother had dementia and was going to die from it. The same spot of mold growing on Kay's back means that she will also develop dementia.
The house in Kay's dreams belonged to her great-grandfather and he was abandoned by a family that didn't understand dementia. The window appearing on the front door in both houses represented the dementia/Alzheimer's that runs in families and devastates them.
After reading this explanation, the more I thought about it, the more I really liked the film. I realized that the mold in the house represented the plaques that are in the brain of someone who has Alzheimer's disease. The mold was a physical representation of the plaques in Edna's brain. When Sam got lost in the hallways, it was a metaphor for how one who has dementia gets lost, essentially in their own brain and is screaming for someone to help them get out.
I felt connected to this film because I worked in a hospice while I was an intern and visited many patients who suffered from dementia. I saw many people in all kinds of different settings and witnessed the devastating effects of dementia on those people and their families. People who had their families visit them versus those who had been abandoned by their families were tremendously different in how they responded to my arrival depending when I visited them with my supervisor. Those who had regular family visits were much more responsive, had lower levels of depression and anxiety, and were less likely to sleep all day.
In the film, Kay visits a care facility where she is thinking of placing Edna and breaks down sobbing after going back to her car. I could completely understand her turmoil, not knowing how to help her mother, yet not wanting to abandon her either. At the end of the film, although Sam urges her mother to abandon Edna and tells her mother that Edna isn't Edna anymore, Kay sees a note that says, " I am loved" and goes back to her mother to help her.
With dementia, our loved ones may not resemble the person we once knew, but it important to realize that they are still our loved ones and even though they may not be the same, they still understand love, care, devotion, empathy and kindness. This film really made me think about the difference between people who can face what's difficult and love through that pain and those who choose to turn away and abandon those they love because it's too painful.
In the end, the film wasn't really a horror movie to me per se, but it is horrifying to see a loved one lose who they once were and not know how to fix it for them or help them get back what they lost.
Have you seen this film? What did you think? What was your impression of what the mold meant? Do you think this is a true horror film? Did you like what it had to say about dementia? Please share your thoughts below!