Jake Mahaffy’s Reunion utilises its slow-burn storytelling to compel its audience. This complex tale occasionally trips itself up, but with a killer finale, it makes it a film that is worth the build.
Matriarch Ivy (Julia Ormond) plays matriarch Ivy, who enjoys a strange, detached relationship with an adult daughter and mum-to-be Ellie (Emma Draper). After a long time apart, the pair are thrown together when Ellie arrives at her recently deceased grandparents’ family home, ahead of the birth, to help Ivy with the clearance. Ellie’s wheelchair-bound dad Jack (John Bach), is also rattling the walls in the creepy old house. Once home, the relationship between mother and daughter becomes further strained, and Ellie starts to experience strange occurrences and disturbing dreams about her long-dead sister Cara.
Reunion’s slow-paced nature may hold a few people back from thoroughly enjoying the piece, but this is a film that earns its audiences patience thanks to spreading little hints of what the finale brings. Jake Mahaffy takes his time, showing us the dynamic between the three surviving family members, with Ellie continually spiralling as she begins to remember more and more of what happened in her families past. While we struggle with Ellie, it is Ivy who brings the most intrigue. He also does a terrific job balancing the slow-burn nature of the family drama coupled with forming a claustrophobic atmosphere that rises to a chilling boiling point.
Ivy’s unstable arc begins from the very first moments that we see her. She seemingly was pleasant to neighbours previously. But upon Ellie’s arrival and the arrival of her future grandchild, she is keen to make sure no one but the family is there for overly long, to the point of rude, even Gus, who is working on the house. Immediately we see how fractured her relationship with Ellie is as she throws barbs at her from every angle. Ellie’s gaslighting is wonderfully uncomfortable as the audience try to work out why she is acting how she is towards her own daughter. The story leads us to believe that Ivy has been doing this for a specific reason. But as the last act unfolds, it all becomes more apparent as to her tactics’ true purpose.
As the flashbacks continue of this family’s past, we soon find that Reunion is also a film about abusive relationships within a family; the psychological damage done to both Ivy and Ellie throughout the years shows how fractured this family is. Ivy can’t let go of what Jack had done to the family, and as such, she transfers that anger and resentment directly onto Ellie. Who in turn acts out, and the fear that Ellie will repeat what Ivy has done grows more and more the longer Ellie is in her presence.
Ormond and Draper bounce off one another fantastically here as mother and daughter; you buy into the reasons as to why Ellie has stayed away for so long and feel her frustrations, then turned concerns as we follow Ivy around. Ormond is fantastic as Ivy, friendly, but full of venom whenever she feels she needs to be. By having her be the opposite of Ellie (personality-wise), we see how these two ends of a magnet clash in such claustrophobic surroundings. No matter what, though this is Ormond’s show, and she owns the film.
This is at its core a family chiller; it is hard to call this a horror, although, by that final act, there are horror themes present; Reunion feels much like a dark family chiller, and when it focuses on that, it is effective. This is thanks to the constant sense of dread that fills the movie. Coupled with the minimalist score, we are left with no doubts of the films intents to disorientate the audience, keeping us well in line with how Ellie feels at that point.
Reunion has the odd issue of having some very effective moments, one that comes to mind is when Ellie opens one of the packed up boxes from her dream. The use of seeing body fluids within the body is compelling. Yet, for as good as these small moments are and as good as Ormond and Draper are, none of it ever entirely comes together as it should and causes a slight distance from the audience to the picture when the audience should be reeled in.
Despite that, Reunion is still very much worth your time thanks to the build-up; however, with that said, something always feels as if it is missing from making it the complete film that would allow it to fully stand out. It remains a solid chiller that has moments that will stick with you.
Reunion is available now on digital formats.
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