Psychological horror of intergenerational relationships
- Relic review by PD
Probably not the thing to watch late at night if you live in a dark, creaky old house with your elderly mother, but this highly original piece by Japanese Australian first-timer Natalie Erika James is for the most part a compelling psychological horror. There's terrifying dreams, deeply buried memories of traumas past, plaster infested with creeping black mould and a scrabbling noise in the brickwork, nasty-looking bruises across breastbones and strips of skin that shear away from flesh. But in many ways the movie’s simplest conceit is its most chilling and gives rise to its most impressively scarifying filmmaking: a house as metaphor for the mind of its inhabitant. So when that inhabitant is slowly losing herself to dementia, the house begins to collapse in on itself, a labyrinth of dead ends, foreshortened impossible geometries and doorways that turn into solid walls behind your back. If growing up is often portrayed as realising you can never go home again, here growing old is realising that even as home betrays you, you can never get away from it.
The house's longtime resident is Edna (Robyn Nevin), whose long white hair is a handy indicator of how together she is — neatly pinned back when she’s her spiky self, loose and straggly when she’s become disoriented. It's full of post-it notes bearing reminders that range from the banal, like “take pills,” to the cryptic — like “don’t follow it.” For a time she seems fine, merely irritated to be treated like an invalid, but soon starts to deteriorate, and daughter Kay is faced with tough decisions about her mother’s future while also being troubled by nightmares and noises that send her creeping through darkened hallways at night — a motif that admittedly becomes increasingly unsubtle and rather overused. DP Charlie Sarroff’s photography is terrific though, with patient, observant frames accumulating mood steadily; things that are cheerful become ominous, like the pulsing of Christmas tree lights, and images such as Edna working at her candle art, become inexplicably sinister.
There are times when you can't help thinking that a lot of the women’s anxiety could be dissipated with a couple of 100-watt lightbulbs, and occasionally James overplays her horror-movie hand and we notice the contrivances. But generally, though, the excesses are forgiven due to the cleanly drawn psychologies of the three actors, whose excellent performances neatly draw the intergenerational relationships between grandmother, mother and daughter with great subtlety and insight; we observe the sad truism of how a daughter can deeply love her mother while also despising or fearing the ageing version of her own self that Mum represents. More to come, hopefully, from a talented director.
4 out of 4 members found this review helpful.
- Relic review by TE
Yet another 'horror' film that depends almost entirely on darkness as a substitute for more subtle visual and sonic effects. It is often quite a challenge to work out what is going on.
The subject is dementia and the creepy house is used as a clunky metaphor for the unravelling mind of the oldest of the three female leads. However, any serious examination of dementia is scrapped in favour of cheap scare tactics and lingering shots of impenetrable shadows.
There is clearly meant to be some commentary about the mystic bond between grandmother, daughter and granddaughter, but this becomes grimly laughable when the two younger women are forced to beat the living daylights out of the grandmother, before pulling all her hair out and cradling her in a sinister embrace.
There is nothing original here and the only unsettling aspect is the inflated seriousness of the interviews in the disc extras.
2 out of 5 members found this review helpful.