Thomas Wolfe said “You can’t go home again. Writer/director Jake Mahaffy (Free In Deed, Wellness) proves just how true that is in his most recent film, the ironically titled Reunion. We tend to think of reunions and homecomings as positive and happy things. But for the fractured and dysfunctional at the heart of this film, to quote another author, Jean-Paul Sartre, “Hell is other people”.
Ellie (Emma Draper, What We Do in the Shadows, This Town) has a lot on her plate. She’s pregnant and not overly happy at the prospect of motherhood, especially as she’s recently separated from the child’s father. She’s also trying to finish a book she’s been working on for ages. So she heads to the house she recently inherited from her grandparents to finish it and get her head together.
However she finds her mother Ivy (Julia Ormond, Witches of East End, Son of the South) is there. As is her father Jack (John Bach, The Tattooist, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers), who is now wheelchair bound and suffering from dementia. Having to deal with her overbearing mother as well as the father who abused her takes a further toll on her already strained mental condition and she soon starts seeing what she thinks is the ghost of her half sister Cara (Ava Keane) who died when they were still kids.
Reunion’s setting, a dark and brooding old gothic house would seem the perfect setting for a ghost story, and it adds plenty of atmosphere to the film. Despite that and the presence of a spectre, Reunion is much more of a two person psychological drama/thriller centered on the mother/daughter relationship and the long repressed secret that has shaped it. As such it benefits from intense performances by Draper and Ormond in the lead roles.
Obviously tense and uncomfortable with each other from the beginning, the issues between mother and daughter only get worse as the film goes on and the past refuses to stay buried. Much of that past is revealed to the audience by way of effective flashbacks. Ellie’s push to find the truth and her mother’s resistance leads to uncomfortable questions about abuse and just which parent was truly the monster.
As you can probably tell, Reunion is a slow burn, building on discomfort and the growing realization of just how horrifying the truth will turn out to be. And when I thought it had revealed everything, it pulled another ace from its sleeve. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the film’s impact but the film’s last twenty minutes lands not one but two brutal emotional punches.
While I’ve seen it compared to Hereditary, a better comparison would be another female centric film from neighbouring Australia, Relic. There’s the same slow paced feel of approaching and inescapable doom before a more manic final act. As good as it was Reunion gets deeper under the skin and further into your mind.