This article contains spoilers for both Relic and Silent Hill 2.
Relic, directed by Natalie Erika James, written by James and Christian White, is the most captivating film I’ve seen this year. With her mother Edna (Robyn Nevin) having gone missing, Kay (Emily Mortimer) takes her daughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) to the matriarch’s home in search of her. When the two find Edna, all appears to have been a fluke of old age — Edna coming across a little disoriented. But as Kay and Sam spend more time in her home, things begin to deteriorate. As Edna’s condition worsens to depressing, surreal heights, the family finds themselves submerged in agony.
The film is a brilliant, tragic look at how dementia can ripple through a family. After an hour or so watching it the first time, I was fascinated for what would come next and how it would conclude on such heavy themes. Not only did the third act prove to be a devastating ending, but I also found a surprising parallel to one of my other favorite works of horror: Silent Hill 2.
Silent Hill 2 is an iconic horror video game known for its brutal atmosphere, terrifying monsters, and psychological depth. There are several games and other forms of media in the franchise, but not much in the Silent Hill cannon comes close to the chilling horror that is the second entry.
A general synopsis of Silent Hill 2: The game follows James, a man who goes to the town of Silent Hill in search of his wife Mary. She has sent him a letter, inviting him to meet her there. Thing is, Mary has been dead for years (having passed away from some illness). As James ventures through the town, he comes across horrific monsters that disturb the player in their appearance and actions. Among these monsters are other people, some who are struggling with their own personal horror. The town is an empty, distant place, where buildings are abandoned, iron has gone to rot, and a ghostly mist looms on every street. It is later revealed that James killed his wife out of a desperation to end her suffering. Plagued by guilt, Silent Hill consumes James, spiraling him into a nightmare where demons and people represent his haunted psyche.
Relic’s third act surprised me in how much it reminded me of Silent Hill 2. After the film ended, I started to look back on it – considering how it observes its characters and how they function about the world they exist in. Overtime, I began to draw more lines between the two properties. There are other films that provide psychological horror similar to Silent Hill 2, but I found Relic’s delivery of emotional dread to be incredibly potent, tapping into the intimate force of the iconic game. For much of how the film explores grief is in the way that Silent Hill 2 examines its protagonist. Through their use of atmosphere, setting, and exploration of mental anguish, both stories explore characters trapped in personal hells.
From the way certain monsters act as twisted aspects of James’ guilt, to the way the town’s aura feels anxious and oppressive, Silent Hill 2 uses its setting to further enforce the state of James’ mind. This is a big aspect I see throughout Relic in the form of Edna’s house. As the camera makes its way into different rooms, one can sense that the house was once a place full of life and love. Moments of Sam looking at her grandma’s possessions or Edna partaking in her daily rituals offer a comforting feeling. However, as Edna’s condition intensifies, the house begins to exude a darker tone. Color comes across as drained, rooms begin to feel colder with the passing of time. The presence of mold begins expanding throughout the house, confirming that the illness that is hurting Edna is spreading within her – her suffering becoming more visible to her family.
In both Relic and Silent Hill 2, the environment acts to reflect people; through physical changes in setting, the audience gathers insight into the emotions and mental state of the characters. The respective settings of both worlds are rich with dread; the somber energy surrounding James and those of Relic permeates in each scene. As each story progresses, the audience witness the continuing decay of surroundings and sanity.
Little happens in the way of action throughout Relic. With a few brief moments there and then, as well as the final act, much of the film plays to a contemplative flow. Not so much a slow burn, but a careful, well-focused observation of the characters. In Silent Hill 2, pace is used in order to have players feel present in the town. Relic utilizes pace to make the audience feel present in the frustration and misery of Kay, Sam, and Edna. In each difficult confrontation, in each moment of disappointment and resentment, the film takes its time. Going from one scene where Edna and Sam are sharing laughter, to then see the former lash out at her granddaughter is tragic. The film’s more aggressive moments escalate overtime, but not in an immediate manner. There is rarely a sudden twist or flashiness to actions.
Silent Hill 2 carefully observes James and other characters’ tortured psyches. Over the course of gameplay, the player sees James losing his sanity; he falls deeper into the darkness of Silent Hill, overtaken by the fantasy around him. Edna, Kay, and Sam also fall deeper into themselves; Edna slipping into her illness as Kay and Sam become consumed in the weight of responsibility and sadness. Both properties follow their characters into a downward spiral – where psychological horror wreaks havoc on them and twists their respective realities.
These aspects of character examination and environmental auras become even more significant when one looks at Relic’s third act (and how much it feels like Silent Hill 2).
Relic plays with the audience, teasing them with the idea of something supernatural being in the house. There and then, a shadowy figure can be seen in the background among the characters. Is this some sort of monster? At times, Kay has bizarre nightmares of an old family cabin; a dead corpse lies besides a bed. It’s all vague and keeps the viewer on their toes.
In the final act there are two significant points to keep in mind: One is Sam entering a dark dimension of sorts, the other being Edna’s “snap.” Prior to these points, Kay and Edna share a brutal moment together outside where Edna speaks to wanting to be home and the fear of losing everything. Around this time, Sam is beginning to feel the pressure of being among her grandmother, anxious by her off and aggressive behavior.
In the house, Sam finds a door she was not aware of; she opens it and discovers a new part of the house that is old and covered with mold. When she turns around to leave, the door in is gone. As she runs about the halls, the environment and lighting become darker, the corridors tighter. At the same time, Kay and Edna are together, the latter displaying an eerie silence. Throughout the film, Edna has been seen with black bruises; during this act, the bruises have intensified, covering a large chunk of her chest. She begins mutilating herself, all of a sudden turning on Kay in an antagonist manner. With the narrative playing around with supernatural elements, one can’t be sure if this is really Edna or a fantastical interpretation imagined by Kay.
In a blend of psychological, supernatural, and magical realism, Kay and Sam create and enter a shared dark fantasy – a concept that feels like what Silent Hill does to its inhabitants. What I find aids in this theory is how Sam and Kay eventually meet up.
The two of them are in the house yet separated rooms apart. Sam finds the door, enters this new dimension, and is trapped in there. During her time there, she travels down twisted halls to find a way back to her mom. She is searching until she finds a weak point in a wall. As she strikes the wall, the camera shifts to show the audience the other side – being the family’s normal looking living room. But before Sam can break through, she hears her mom and decides to run back. The two then meet up in the house foyer and embrace.
So how do the two meet? When not watching Sam navigate the “dark dimension” of the house, the audience sees Kay with Edna. The two of them are divided by a supernatural space, and yet somehow – without either making any jump from one space to the other – they end up together in the same place.
Both Kay and Sam’s frustrations have reached their pinnacle – they are in need of lashing out, venting, finding some means of solace from the dread. Though the “dark dimension” of Relic feels aesthetically similar to Silent Hill 2, it is more striking in how it emotionally resonates. Among its numerous themes, the game is very much about processing trauma. Through all their suffering, James and the characters of Relic find themselves in a reality clouded by pain – a hell that represents their internal anguish. James is only on his path because he can’t handle what he has done. His mind tricks him into going to Silent Hill, the town fueling his torment with its supernatural power. For Kay and Sam, their minds take over, twisting the house around them in horrific ways.
As Relic comes to an end, Kay realizes she can’t leave her mom. As Edna gasps for air, Kay carries her upstairs and places her into bed. She begins to peel off Edna’s skin. Little by little, her flesh and hair give way to a frail, dark being. This is who I think the audience sees throughout the film; the house is not haunted by a ghost or demon, but by Edna’s illness. In Silent Hill 2, James finds himself followed by the guilt of killing Mary – that guilt being mutated in the form of horrifying monsters and warped environments.
Edna, Kay, and Sam lie in bed. As they each face away from one another, Sam spots a black bruise on the back of Kay – hinting that she too one day will fall prey to the same illness. The film’s final moments are devastating. By the time the credits roll, one is left fascinated and empty. It’s a purposeful emptiness at that, given how effectively the film portrays the family’s suffering. Like Silent Hill 2, Relic revolves around the cold dread that comes in isolating, personal hells; how the horrors of one’s life can feel like an avalanche, suffocating them and warping their world into a bleak nightmare.
Relic is an excellent film. Though it offers its own uniqueness, it is incredible how much it embraces the spirit of Silent Hill 2. Let alone the awesome use of setting and atmosphere, but like Silent Hill 2, Relic is a story about a haunting. James is haunted by his guilt and loss; Edna is haunted by her mind; Kay and Sam are haunted by Edna’s mental and physical decay.
When we are stricken by something difficult or tragic, life can have a way of turning grim on us. We can find despair – monsters even – in each corner of life. In this pain, we may feel alone and desperate for any light. This is the horror Relic and Silent Hill 2 share.
Relic by Natalie Erika James, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jackson Finter.rrAll photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited”,”created_timestamp”:”1539951165″,”copyright”:”All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute pro”,”focal_length”:”160″,”iso”:”800″,”shutter_speed”:”0.003125″,”title”:”Relic u2014 Still 2″,”orientation”:”0″}” data-image-title=”Relic — Still 2″ data-image-description=”” data-medium-file=”https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?fit=300%2C169&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?fit=740%2C416&ssl=1″ loading=”lazy” class=”alignnone wp-image-3596596 size-full” src=”https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?resize=740%2C416&ssl=1″ alt=”” width=”740″ height=”416″ srcset=”https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?w=1996&ssl=1 1996w, https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?resize=300%2C169&ssl=1 300w, https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?resize=768%2C432&ssl=1 768w, https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?resize=1024%2C576&ssl=1 1024w, https://i1.wp.com/bloody-disgusting.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/relic-still-2_49091160822_o.jpg?w=1480&ssl=1 1480w” sizes=”(max-width: 740px) 100vw, 740px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>