• Nate Adams

Review: Sluggish horror drama 'Relic' light on scares

Courtesy of IFC Midnight

Natalie Erika James’ “Relic” is an endurance test in small-scale horror and though it's obviously served up to be a big meaty metaphor on dementia, the flick ends up running in circles with nowhere to turn. 


The talented and watchable Emily Mortmier plays Kay, the distressed daughter of Edna (Robyn Nevin), who, when the movie starts, has just received a call from the neighbors saying her mom hasn’t been seen in weeks. Feeling guilty and obligated, she packs up the car with her daughter, Sam (Bella Heathcote) and the two head to her home an effort to track her down. 


Upon arrival, the house is in rough shape: it would seem no maintenance has been done, dirty dishes are piling in the sink, and there’s hardly a signal Edna has been there aside from a few sticky notes with various messages to remind herself of the things she needs to accomplish. 


The mother-daughter team decided to shack up in the house for a while after filing a police report and sending out search parties during the day. But, suddenly and without warning, Edna appears out of the blue, like nothing happened, in the kitchen. Kay can’t explain to the police where she was and Edna has no recollection of past events. Or maybe she’s hiding something? 


Considering this is a horror flick, you can probably infer where things are headed and James delicately tries to tiptoe around the haunted house troupes, but it’s painstakingly hard not to draw comparisons when Edna inevitably becomes possessed by an unseen demonic presence. 


In any case, “Relic” puts forth plenty of questions and not very many answers and though the atmospheric tension can be enough to ease your mind, “Relic” struggles to hold the screen. So much so, I decided to revisit the film for a second viewing, only to become more annoyed that the first viewing wasn’t a fluke. “Relic” just isn’t that scary or engaging. In fact, most of “Relic” takes place in dark corridors (to the point where it's almost impossible to make out what you’re watching) and presents entire sequences without giving them any context. Kay, for example, suffered a serious traumatic incident when she was a child, which had something to do with a creepy old house. Perhaps to represent the challenges of getting older? Either way, it didn’t work for me and it was never fully explained. 


Some will likely relate to “Relic” because they either are, or have, dealt with an eledery parent nearing the end of their life and are being forced to confront reality. An intriguing hook that, despite three solid performances, failed to resonate as a horror movie.


It might have helped had the story unfolded much quicker, which, at a runtime of 90 minutes, is saying something. And just when I thought the final twenty minutes might lure me to the side of a recommendation, the ending closes things with a whimper, after keeping me on the hook for so long. 


Grade: C


RELIC is currently playing in select drive-ins across the country and will be available digitally and by virtual cinema starting July 10th.