Horror films often explore real life themes such as family, grief, mental illness and much more. In Reunion, tensions are high from the very beginning as heavily pregnant Ellie (Emma Draper) reunites with her estranged mother Ivy (Julia Ormond) in her childhood home. It’s immediately obvious that their relationship is complex, as Ellie seems very reluctant to accept help from her mother, even being visibly offended when she tries to touch her.
It soon becomes clear that this family is harbouring some dark secrets, as Ellie finds herself plagued with unpleasant visions of her late sister Cara (Ava Keane). Spending time in her childhood home forces Ellie to confront some inner demons, and past memories she’d rather keep buried.
Reunion is an uncomfortable film, as most of the time we follow Ellie and Ivy in this large, unwelcoming home that doesn’t feel very happy or inviting. It almost feels like an intrusion as we’re forced to peek inside the house and uncover the truth about this family.
The film is a slow burn, and features an ongoing sense of dread rather than massive jumpscares or grand horror gestures. It’s a subtle horror with some very effective scenes that will be permanently etched in my mind due to how disturbing they were. It’s uncomfortable and weird, yet at times it’s also impossible to look away.
The special effects in this film are really impressive, especially when it comes to one very creepy nightmare sequence. Without spoiling anything, it plays on the anxieties around Ellie’s pregnancy and uses it to terrify both her and the audience.
We’re definitely no stranger to pregnancy being used as an effective horror device, with films like Rosemary’s Baby and Inside using it to terrify viewers everywhere. It really plays on vulnerabilities, and an intense desire to protect your child.
Its primarily set in a large house, which is cleverly made to feel claustrophobic and prison-like, as Ellie struggles to come to terms with her new surroundings. It seems like none of the women really want to be there, and Ivy even locks doors to quite literally keep things out of her sight.
Teamed with a low, droning score that adds melancholy to the film, Reunion is an incredibly bleak examination of a mother and daughter desperately trying to fix their relationship whilst confronting the truth about their past. It’s not an easy watch by any means, with both lead actresses giving incredibly convincing performances. They’re flawed, complex characters who at times can be intensely unlikeable, but it really adds a sense of realism to the film.
Ellie is also a deeply troubled character with Emma Draper playing her sense of panic and confusion brilliantly, sometimes it’s hard to know what’s real and what’s not which is truly the beauty of this film and how it keeps you guessing. You never really know what to expect next.
Reunion is slow and ominous, so it definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea as it slowly creeps towards its big reveal. But writer and director Jake Mahaffy has proved that you don’t always need ghosts and creepy masked murderers for an effective horror film. Sometimes your family can be the most scary of all.
Reunion played at Nightstream, the Collaborative Virtual Festival From Boston Underground, Brooklyn Horror, North Bend, Overlook, and Popcorn Frights Festival. This festival ran from October 8th – 11th with plenty of great films on offer.