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Relic

Year: 2020
Production Co: AGBO
Director: Natalie Erika James
Writer: Natalie Erika James/Christian White
Cast: Robyn Nevin, Emily Mortimer, Bella Heathcote

Not Guillermo Del Toro's one and only experience working with the Weinsteins, from which he's never quite recovered (anyway, that's Mimic, and I always get those two late 90s creature features mixed up).

This is part of an exciting new wave of Australian horror films (The Babadook, Lost Gully Road) that are usually set in remote locations with creepy houses in the bush, usually autumnal in hue and leisurely in pacing and coming across as very prestigious, almost gilded, looking on the surface like Oscar winners if not for the content.

And like The Babadook, this one is something of a feminist tale as three generations of women coexist uneasily in yet another creepy house when they realise they're not alone.

Elderly Edna is going about her business at home when something apparently disturbing catches her attention. She leaves the house, walks off into the trees and disappears. Days later her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) have arrived to help in the search. They find post it notes everywhere, a chair inexplicably turned towards a window, the house locked from inside and a weird black mould growing on the walls. Edna, it becomes apparent, is losing her marbles to dementia.

After a few more days Edna shows up back at home, bedraggled after her few days outside but unaware she's even been gone, seemingly back to normal. But she doesn't stay that way, her frame of mind turning from bleak and accusing to warm and loving and back again. And all the while the girls are plagued by strange nightmares of a grisly corpse, horrible stories about Edna from the family next door who have the developmentally challenged son, the spreading of the mould and more weird phenomena.

In snippets of lucidity, Edna warns them that something else is in the house with her, and after the stuff Kay and Sam have seen, they're starting to agree. But the script by director Natalie Erika James and her co-writer Christian White is just as concerned about the prickly relationships between the three leads as they are with scares and hauntings, the slight bad blood between Kay and Sam adding to the leaden atmosphere in the house.

Things turn proper ghost story – after too long an interval, to be honest – when Sam finds a hidden room behind a door that never gets used, finding herself in an inner network of dingy hallways and small storage rooms. When she gets a fright and turns to leave, she finds herself looking down a corridor exactly like the one she's just come from. Either she's losing her mind or the house is changing around her to keep her trapped.

Using the light from her mobile she gets increasingly panicked as she runs hither and yon, the walls around her literally closing in until she's crawling through holes, pounding the walls and screaming to get out.

By the time the movie moves from there to the awful and kind of gross denouement when Kay commits the final act that deals with her mother's fears and demons, it mostly lost me. Maybe it was a metaphor for ageing or the decomposition of the body or something, but even though it very successfully wields a creepy mood and an atmosphere of dread, the story went too far off the rails for me to stay invested by the end.

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