I don’t know if it’s typical of all drive-ins (I expect it is) or just the one I frequent, but when a movie is really dark—and I’m not speaking of tone here, but literal lighting—it can be hard to tell what’s happening on the screen sometimes. Sometimes this actually helps the experience, as with the excellent THE VAST OF NIGHT, adding to the creep factor and lending it effectiveness. At other times, it’s just annoying. That was the case with RELIC. There were some things that happened onscreen that I simply did not see and had to look up online to know what had happened. This didn’t ruin the movie for me, as I was mostly able to follow along. But it was an issue.
RELIC has been getting all kinds of great buzz on the independent circuit, and rightfully so. It is excellent. And that’s all I can say about it before announcing a SPOILER ALERT! All Horror marks know that Horror is psychologically healthy, in that make-believe horror helps the human psyche to process real-world horror. There aren’t many things more horrific, as far as I’m concerned, than the thought of losing your mind. RELIC offers an unflinching depiction of an old woman’s encroaching dementia and the toll it takes on her family. If it were just a drama it would be too depressing to watch. It would also be far less interesting. In RELIC, the house where the old woman lives is a metaphor for her condition. (Hell, everything in this movie is a metaphor.) The house changes, shrinks and grows, at times as small as a coffin, at others labyrinthine. It’s as powerful a symbol of a person being trapped in her own mind as has ever been put on film; the entire movie, in its depiction of someone literally becoming something else, stripped of identity and altered beyond recognition by this awful condition, offers a literal rather merely psychological transformation. And it’s terrifying. Horror movies don’t scare me. But RELIC is disturbing in how close it hews to reality for far too many people. There but for the grace of God go we all.