Mother isn’t Mother anymore

by Selma

I found Relic to be a much more interesting film when it ditched the shadowy figure and addressed the audience head on with its commitment to the real horror: growing old. 

Relic (2020) begins in a dark house. An old woman– her name is Edna, but I’ll call her Grandmother– stands naked in the living room, water running from the bath upstairs is spilling down. Grandmother seems unconcerned. She is distracted, looking at a thin, dark figure, unseen by the audience until its hand moves out of frame. The opening scene ends there. It’s disturbing. And it generates a huge question: who is the dark figure? 

We transition to Mother and Daughter, they fill in the other two generations of Grandmother’s relatives. Mother and Daughter are driving to visit Grandmother. The police contact them because Grandmother hasn’t been seen for a few days. Grandmother is old. She is prone to forgetfulness, bouts of anger, signs that some audience members may recognize as dementia in their own aging relatives. Relic traverses the line between supernatural hyperbole and the reality of growing older. 

And that might be an issue for the film. 

I liked Relic but I only started to like it during its final 20 minutes. Throughout the film I was understanding the haunting of the three women to be literal. It’s a horror movie after all, and anything is fair game: ghosts, zombies, demons, you name it. And the viewer was told to expect that in a sense. As mentioned before, the shadowy black figure is established immediately in the opening scene. It seems like it should be an antagonistic force throughout the film. There are even numerous nightmare sequences in which the shadowy figure’s identity could be hinted at. Mother has a recurring nightmare about her great-grandfather whose old house makes up the foundation of Grandmother’s home. The great-grandfather is shown in a horrifying montage of decay and his figure is black and skeletal, it seems like a precursor to what the black figure developed into. 

So with those scenes, the foundations of the old house within Grandmother’s now haunted house, the shadowy black figure, etc. It was hard not to take the haunting as a literal and specific occurrence. However, I found Relic to be a much more interesting film when it ditched the shadowy figure and addressed the audience head on with its commitment to the real horror: growing old. 

After a dizzying and anxiety-inducing maze sequence toward the end of the film. Mother and Daughter successfully escape a deranged Grandmother who has turned completely against them and has been trying to harm them. Daughter wants to run. She beckons Mother to come and to leave Grandmother who, to her, is no longer Grandmother. But Mother can’t. She sees the decay and realizes her responsibility– wonderfully foreshadowed by an earlier quote “she changed your diapers, now you change hers.” A reversal of care from parent to child to child to parent. Daughter flees, seemingly unable to fathom this kindness and grace Mother is showing to Grandmother. 

A disgusting yet tender moment follows. Mother carries Grandmother upstairs to her bedroom. Grandmother is covered with black flesh wounds that have been growing deeper throughout the film. Mother slowly begins to peel the skin away, revealing a black, tar-like skeletal body– just like the great-grandfather’s body of the nightmare sequences. After skinning Grandmother and laying her down on the bed, Mother cuddles her, in a fetal position. The Mother’s duty to her parent has been completed. Now, Grandmother can rest and be at peace. Daughter even returns. She sees the passiveness of Grandmother and realizes that she was no monster, she was just alone and afraid. Daughter joins the two on the bed and completes the generational cycle. As she stares at the back of Mother’s neck, she notices the beginnings of the black decay…

So what does this say? The ending of Relic left me with a really fantastic metaphor for the cycle of aging. The decaying process from the ending scene altered the literal grounding that might have been established by the decay Grandmother undergoes at the beginning. It might be taken as a specific curse, but as the decay spreads to Mother, the film seems to be saying that this is a process that happens to everyone. What is unique is the conditions by which it happens. For the great-grandfather, it seems that he was abandoned, left to rot by his family who could have cared for him but didn’t. Grandmother seemed to be heading towards that fate, but the appearance of Mother and the tenderness of the final scene indicate that Grandmother has completed her transformation somewhat gracefully. Now, looking toward the future, Daughter must maintain the relationship she has with Mother and make sure that she does not have a demented breakdown like Grandmother did. The decay seemed to be presented as an inevitability. What happens during that inevitability of aging is dependent on who is there for you in your older years and the support they can offer. 

Relic sort of misleads you to thinking there is more to the haunting until it tells you, by the end, that this was no haunting after all. It is simply a terrifying reality. 

Rule of Rose and the Tidiness of Unreality

Ian here—

Whoops! I made sure to give myself enough time to finish this video by Halloween … but then I neglected to post the announcement here! Happy belated Halloween, everyone.

I really relished the opportunity to talk about Rule of Rose, one of my favorite odd little games that I’ve never written about in any fashion before. Unfortunately copies of the game have become real collector’s items over the years, and it’s sad to praise a piece of media that so few will have access to. But hey, I also write about experimental film, so I know the feeling.

Script below the jump.

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Siren: Tension, Frustration and Visibility

Group project summary, by leader John Churay

Siren is a survival horror/stealth game developed by Sony Computer Entertainment Japan Studio. The game takes a third-person over the shoulder point of view. Movement in the game uses tank controls, so left and right on the movement stick rotate the character instead of moving them. Unlike more traditional third-person viewpoints, the camera does not move around your avatar. Moving the right stick can change the camera’s orientation, but it is stuck squarely behind your character. The game consists of levels that often revolve around moving from one spot on a map to another. Along the way, you pick up items, defeat enemies known as “Shibito,” and escort AI companions. To pick up items, you must open a menu using triangle and select to pick up that item.

Screen Shot 2020-04-16 at 11.12.31 PM.png(Image credit: exceeding09 at

You use this process to interact with almost all objects in the game, including unlocking doors and entering specific key locations. In the reboot Siren: Blood Curse, this process is streamlined to pressing the X button. However, using the flashlight in the remake requires using a menu, which is not the case in the original. In each level, you can access a map of the area. In the remake only, this is decorated with your position and the locations you need to visit to accomplish tasks. There are multiple characters who you will play as throughout the game; however, there is no choice on who you play in any given level.

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Videogames and Genre Storytelling Week 2 Video Lecture: Special Topics in Horror and Character Alignment

Please find some time to view this 22-minute video lecture between now and our Zoom conference call, which will convene at the normal time. You can expect our Zoom conference call to be shorter and more discussion-based as a result.

Let’s Study Horror Games: Belated Memorial Day Weekend Catch-up

So, this is embarrassing. I actually did conclude the initial 10-episode run of Let’s Study Horror Games by the end of April. But I forgot to cross-post the video here once I uploaded it to YouTube. And then I made an 11th episode, and realized I still hadn’t announced the 10th one. And then weeks went by, and I fretted about, wondering how I should announce both videos on the blog. All of this is much more worry than it’s worth, so I finally just decided to announce them both in this post.

Episode 10 is an extension of some themes I delved into in this old blog post. (I had originally wanted to include Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem in that post, but it takes a lot of persistence to get the “save game deletion” sanity effect in that game, and there’s no way to reliably capture it unless you’ve committed yourself to capturing the entire game.) It marks the end of my formal plan for this series: any subsequent videos I release in it will take a more odds-n-ends approach, with no more multi-episode argumentative arcs.

Episode 11 inaugurates the more odds-n-ends phase. It focuses on sound, including musical scores, and includes within it a video version of this short lesson plan segment.

No transcript this time around, as it would be too unwieldy.

Let’s Study Horror Games, ep 9

Moving right along! This episode adapts some material from this post, but also includes plenty of new material, as well. Script below the jump.

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Let’s Study Horror Games, ep 8

I have returned, bearing new content. This episode isn’t based on any prior material—I had been meaning to write on Until Dawn here for ages, and just ended up making a video for this series instead of writing a blog post on it.

Work and other publications slowed down my progress on this series (remember back when I though I’d wrap it up in February—and that was my pessimistic assessment?). But I worked on ep 9 concurrently with this one, so it should be up in just a few days. I’m hoping to conclude the initial 10-episode run of this series by the end of April.

Script below the jump!

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Let’s Study Horror Games, ep 7

The saga continues. This one’s dedicated to the Siren franchise, which means it’s a more in-depth version of some ideas I first poked around in in the tail end of this lesson plan.

I wanted to finish up this ep because it caps off a four-episode sequence that begain with ep 4. But my hiatus from this series is beginning now. Next up: catching up on interesting games from 2018.

Script below the jump.

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Let’s Study Horror Games, pt 6

I did it! I fulfilled my self-imposed goal of uploading four of these in December. (I also accidentally fulfilled my prediction that I’d post one of these on Christmas, which is when I actually uploaded the video.)

One consequence of sticking to this video-making schedule is that I’m now behind on playing games, and won’t be able to post any further run-downs of interesting games of 2018 until January. Following that, I’m going to be diving back into some peer-reviewed work. Not sure when I’ll return to this series, but rest assured: more is planned.

(This one serves as an “enhanced edition” of the lesson plan I originally posted here. Very happy to have a chance to tweak this material further, as it remains one of the favorite in-class discussions I’ve ever had with students.) And even though I don’t credit him in the video, I must give a shout-out to Adam Hart, whose writings on slasher films have been a frequent inspiration.

Script below the jump.

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Let’s Study Horror Games, ep 5

Episode 5 is up! It’s going to be tight, but I think I’m going to make my self-imposed goal of releasing four episodes in December.

Mostly new material this time, although there’s elements pulled from this post. Script below the jump.

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