‘Relic’: Oh, Granny, what big knives you have!

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

You’ll see a higher body count in the pre-cred­its se­quences to many a splat­ter film than you’ll wit­ness in all of “Relic” — but that doesn’t mean you won’t find your­self hold­ing your breath and feel­ing those tiny hairs on the back of your neck ris­ing to at­ten­tion in the fi­nal mo­ments of this gen­uinely creepy and dis­turb­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller.

This is the kind of movie where the ten­sions sim­mer, and sim­mer, and … sim­mer, un­til reach­ing the boil­ing point. Where some­thing as sim­ple and seem­ingly be­nign as a liv­ing room chair re­ar­ranged to face a bay win­dow, shiny new locks on old, paint­peeled doors, or a grand­moth­erly hobby of mak­ing can­dles at home can take on the most omi­nous and chill­ing con­no­ta­tions. Where the com­pli­cated and lay­ered and not al­ways lov­ing dy­namic be­tween a grand­mother, a daugh­ter and a grand­daugh­ter is mag­ni­fied by cir­cum­stances to the point of truly hor­rific con­se­quences.

“Relic” is the feel-dread movie of the year. The con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent Emily Mor­timer is Kay, a worka­holic sin­gle mother to a re­sent­ful teenager (are there any other kind in the movies?) named Sam (Bella Heath­coate). When the po­lice in­form Kay her el­derly mother, Edna (Robyn Nevin), has gone miss­ing, Kay and Sam head to Edna’s spa­cious home, which of course is lo­cated in a re­mote, wooded area, be­cause this is a hor­ror movie. A cou­ple of days pass by and hope is fad­ing for Edna’s re­turn when all of sud­den there she is in the kitchen, her feet black­ened by dirt and her eyes wild — but act­ing as if noth­ing strange has hap­pened.

“Where has ev­ery­one gone?” Edna keeps ask­ing. Kay doesn’t know what she’s talk­ing about. Ev­ery­one is here.

A typ­i­cally obliv­i­ous movie doc­tor shows up and says, hey, Edna is get­ting old and th­ese things hap­pen. Could be the on­set of de­men­tia. (Thanks, doc.) Kay and Sam stay on for a few days to look af­ter Edna and en­gage in fierce de­bates about whether Edna should be placed in a home. They’re so im­mersed in their is­sues, they’re slow to no­tice there’s some­thing go­ing on with Edna and with this house that goes beyond the easily ex­plain­able. The spread­ing black mold crawl­ing toward the ceil­ing like a time­lapse vine, the feel­ing the walls them­selves are mov­ing, the rot­ting fruit, the im­plied vi­o­lence when Edna uses a se­ri­ous knife to carve those can­dles, the Post-It note Edna car­ries with her that says “DO NOT FOL­LOW IT.” Kay and Sam need to get out of each other’s way and ad­dress the mad­ness creep­ing in from all cor­ners, and even­tu­ally they do just that.

Direc­tor and co-writer Natalie Erika James re­lies on fa­mil­iar hor­ror movie sta­ples — mys­te­ri­ous sounds com­ing from some­where within the house, those odd mark­ings on the walls, strange pieces of his­tory com­ing to light, in­ex­pli­ca­ble be­hav­ior on the part of cer­tain char­ac­ters — but then takes the vi­su­als and the sto­ry­telling to the next level in the fi­nal act, which is grotesque and yet kind of beau­ti­ful and then ab­so­lutely ter­ri­fy­ing.

IFC MID­NIGHT

Robyn Nevin plays Edna, the grand­mother who goes miss­ing and then comes back in an al­tered state, in “Relic.”

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