I was lucky enough to be born with all four grandparents still alive. I got to know them all, but by the time I reached my teens, old age was ravaging their bodies. Parkinsons. Dementia. Diabetes (along with two below the knee amputations for one grandparent). Macular Degeneration leading to blindness. At times, it was terrifying. It’s that fear—not of the death of a loved one, but of losing the pieces of them that make them who they are—that Natalie Erika James taps into in Relic.
James’s first feature-length film opens with water spilling over the edge of a bathtub. The camera follows the water downstairs. Rather than a face, James shows a close shot of someone’s bare feet. The music is tense, wringing every bit of suspense out of revealing who it is the audience is looking at. There’s a Christmas tree, lights shining, in front of the person. Slowly, the camera goes up their naked back. As they’re about to turn around, the title card takes over.