Monday 22 March 2021

REUNION review

Returning to her family home after separating from her abusive partner, pregnant author Ellie (Emma Draper) must contend with the presence of her overbearing mother, Ivy (Julia Ormond), who's clearing the house out in preparation of selling it. Hoping to complete her latest academic book - a study of the links between modern medicine and the dark arts of the middle ages - whilst also dealing with the pains of pregnancy, Ellie starts to have visions of her half-sister Cara (Ava Keane), whose death as a child Ellie still carries feelings of guilt over.

Set in a fantasically grand old house in New Zealand, writer/director Jake Mahaffy's gothic thriller sets up a litany of ideas across its runtime, borrowing elements from ghost stories, Lynchian body horror and even J-Horror to varying degrees of effectiveness. If any one of these elements had been focused on this might be a reunion that would be easier to accept the invitation to, but unfortunately Reunion has packed in too many concepts for its own good, numbing the moments it gets right. The most effective sequences occur early on, with Ellie seeing strange, ghostly goings on in the house like twisting doorknobs and pale limbs reaching out for her from a spectral image of Cara, but it continues to pile on more and more on until whatever tension it builds is buried under a pile of moving boxes and bizarre plot turns. There's a mystery at its core that Ellie literally holds the last piece of the puzzle to over the death of Cara, but boy there's a lot to process before we get there.

The artefacts and iconography of horror are all present, with flashbacks (or are they dreams?) showing the younger Ellie peering through the keyhole to her father's office, a mysterious ornate glass vase she hopes to find in amongst the boxed up debris of the house, black goop coming out of the taps, and an oddly edited VHS tape of Ellie and Cara playing together as children. These are all deployed to creep us out, and whilst the effect is more unsettling than scary, they're nothing compared to an extended dream sequence Ellie has about her impending motherhood that involves breastfeeding a child the likes of which haven't been seen since Eraserhead. It's a disturbing addition, and one that fans of certain sub-genres of horror will enjoy, but is it in keeping with the rest of the film? I'll leave that to you to decide.

Ormond is undoubtedly the big draw for the film, but it's Draper who impresses most as a grounding influence on some of the more outlandish moments. The best scenes involve both of them as bickering mother and daughter - Ormond's oddball Ivy nonchalantly wandering around the house carrying an axe by her feet, locking doors behind her as she goes - and their fractured bond is played well from both sides, slowly revealing the trauma that has caused their emotional distance. It's a positive that they share so many scenes together, but this does render the other key cast members (John Bach as Ellie's elderly bedridden father, and Taika Waititi regular Cohen Holloway as her ex-boyfriend/handyman) largely redundant until they're needed to bring the story to a close.

Despite Reunion throwing too many things at the screen in the hope that some of them will stick, I can't fault the performances of the two leads. With its single interior location and mother/daughter dynamic, Reunion is bound to draw comparisons to last year's Australian horror Relic, but it is very much its own beast, as evidenced by a finale that is so confounding (and confusing), it genuinely defies categorisation.



Reunion is now available on digital platforms from 101 films.

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