NightStream Film Festival Review: Reunion

By Harris Dang

Emma Draper stars as Ellie, a university lecturer who has returned home to reunite with her estranged mother Ivy (Julia Ormond), who has been take care of her invalid husband Jack (John Bach). Despite being heavily pregnant, her state inspires little sympathy from Ivy and the two begin to pick up where they left off in their fractured relationship.

But as Ellie settles in the family home, strange things occur as she hears peculiar noises and her mother’s controlling neuroses are overbearing to the point that it provokes her in ways that it makes her behave erratically. Past events in the family history start to become more perspicuous by the minute and it is through those memories of Ellie’s that it starts to become clear that there are more than just horrors inside the household.

“Reunion” (2020) is an assured horror effort from writer/director Jake Mahaffy as he avoids the typical pratfalls of the genre (excessive jump scares, overdone exposition) and strives for solid characterizations, understated mood and atmosphere and a gradual escalation in suspense that pays off.

Mahaffy always manages to convey a sense of unease as he starts off the film with his characters in a middle of an ongoing conflict. He succinctly develops his characters as three-dimensional human beings by gradually revealing layers about them through action rather than dialogue — Why does Ivy constantly lock the doors in the house? Why does Ellie have constant panic attacks? — but with something on their minds that comes across as intriguing and enigmatic.

“Reunion” is a haunting piece of work that capably shows that dispenses away from obvious scare tactics to deliver a lingering tale of family tragedy and the actions one would commit to dull the pain. Recommended.”

It also helps Mahaffy also manages to rely on the power of suggestion in terms of scares – major props need to go to the sound department – as he does not use non-diegetic sound effects for jolts; never having to telegraph that something spooky is about to happen and trusting his audience to figure out what is going on. There are a lot of issues that come with the territory of the story including possible child abuse, gaslighting, family dilemmas, possible medical harm, selective memory and Mahaffy weaves all of them into the narrative seamlessly – with great help from the precise editing from Jonno Woodford-Robinson) without making the storytelling convoluted.

But the stars of the show are the actresses themselves. Draper is convincing as the increasingly unhinged Ellie who has to carry the burden of a tragic past, a 6-month pregnancy, a guilt complex, possible gaslighting; and Draper pulls off carrying that burden with aplomb. Ormond, who has led an interesting career over the years – my personal favourite performance in her work is in Jennifer Lynch’s thriller “Surveillance” (2008) – but here in “Reunion”, she is able to convey the murkiness in her character’s intentions — Is she sincerely caring of her daughter or is she plotting something against her? – and the two-hander chemistry between her and Draper makes for some powerfully dramatic moments.

As for its flaws, the pacing in the second act could have been tightened up as the scenes of build-up can drag on too long. The ending also come across as overblown and silly due to the contrasts in the first two acts but it does not feel as jarring as it could have been thanks to the subtle foreshadowing that came before it.

Overall, “Reunion” is a haunting piece of work that capably shows that dispenses away from obvious scare tactics to deliver a lingering tale of family tragedy and the actions one would commit to dull the pain. Recommended.

“Reunion” was screened online recently at NightStream 2020.

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