director: jake mahaffy (free in deed, wellness, war)
starring: emma draper, julia ormond, john bach and cohen holloway
REVIEWER: lyall carter
A pregnant woman returns to her recently-deceased grandparents' old family home to spend time with her estranged mother. What begins as a tenuous reunion slowly turns terrifying.
New Zealand made films have been pushed to the forefront in 2020 for a couple of reasons. With Covid still massively impacting the Hollywood release schedule there have been very few new films being released so NZ films are almost all we have as far as new films are concerned. And it’s also been a stellar year for Kiwi made releases including The Legend of Baron To’a, Savage, This Town and Baby Done which are all really great films. Reunion joins the class of 2020’s stellar NZ films, with a taut, thrilling horror that slowly but surely ratchets up the tension to a thrilling, heart pounding finale.
When Ellie (Emma Draper) returns to her childhood home, heavily pregnant, she is reunited with her estranged mother, Ivy (Julia Ormond). Following years of separation, their initial awkward interactions gradually fall into the familiar dynamics of previous years.
But the old house conjures disturbing memories for Ellie who is haunted by her dead sister, Cara. As Ellie grows more erratic and confused, Ivy tries to comfort her and contain her increasingly strange behaviour. When past trauma and the anxiety over her unborn child finally sends Ellie over the edge, she discovers the hidden, horrifying reality of her family that she never expected.
At the heart of Reunion, and what is deftly explored, is the complex dynamics of family relationships on an exaggerated scale. But it’s the time that director Jake Mahaffy gives to developing and exposing those dynamics that lends itself perfectly to also ratcheting up the horror and thriller elements in the film.
While some may find the second act a little on the slow slide, in retrospect it is needed to narratively help us head thundering towards the horrifying and genuinely surprising final act.
To think that this film was shot in a month is as remarkable as the production design which is probably the best I’ve seen in a NZ release this year (and that's saying something because Savage was incredible). The house, the organised clutter, the prosthetic horror elements, cinematography and even the choice to make it appear as though it wasn’t quite set in NZ were all perfect. Reunion is another stellar example of why we are now considered to be world leaders in cinematic production.
The small cast is brilliant and wonderfully led by Emma Draper and Julia Ormond who have built a completely believable mother daughter dynamic. Veteran Kiwi actor John Bach is also superb with his very deep, strong Christopher Lee like voice and Cohen Holloway is fantastic, as he always is, in a more supporting role.
Reunion joins the class of 2020’s stellar NZ films, with a taut, thrilling horror that slowly but surely ratchets up the tension to a thrilling, heart pounding finale.