★★★★ - STUFF
- The mature, beautiful Kiwi horror that just wants to scare you silly -
A young woman heads back to the family pile for an extended stay.
She has a book to finish writing, she has broken up with her partner and she is not-very-happily pregnant.
She – Ellie – is hoping the house, recently left to her by her deceased grandparents, will be empty. But, Ellie's mother Ivy – who is executor of the will – has come to stay, to box up three generations worth of knick-knacks and taonga, and to ready the house for sale.
Ellie's dream of a quiet retreat to contemplate her work and come to terms with her own impending motherhood are shattered by Ivy's absolute insistence that Ellie is in no state to look after herself and that the house must be packed away.
Not helping at all are the fact that Ellie is becoming convinced that her half-sister Kara, who died as a child, is still somehow living in the house. And that Dad, the town Lothario in his day – hence the existence of Kara – has also come to stay, despite being mostly bed-ridden and well into the final rounds of his losing battle with dementia.
Reunion sees writer/director Jake Mahaffy take the old is-it-mental-illness-or-is-it-really-a-ghost formula and swing for the fences in a rain-sodden antipodean mansion somewhere halfway between rural Aotearoa and sheer hell.
With the great Julia Ormond (Temple Grandin) performing Ivy with an intensity that sets the air trembling around her, and Emma Draper (Daffodils) refusing to give an inch as Ellie, Reunion often plays out as a two-hander between the two women. The only relief from the claustrophobic duel of wills arrive in the shape of Cohen Holloway, adding another very decent entry to his CV as Ellie's former boyfriend, employed to make repairs on the crumbling house, and the great John Bach, leaving it all on the floor as the wreckage of Ellie's Dad.
Mahaffy pitches the mother/daughter relationship into a minefield of buried cruelties and resentments – on both sides – all ripe for the excavating during what promises to be the “week with Mum and Dad” that absolutely no-one wanted or was ready for.
Mahaffy wears his influences proudly. The red dress the spectre of Kara wears can only be a nod to Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now, while other moments conjure up a whiff of David Lynch's 1977 Eraserhead, Richard Donner's 1976 The Omen and a whole passel of classic 1960s and '70's tropes.
All of which delighted me, even while it was reminding me of how much Reunion might have benefited from a signature 1970s soundtrack, all detuned violins and Theremins up and down your spine like a rusting blade. Just as I might have appreciated an ending that really ratcheted up the madness and cruelty within the story, instead of allowing Ellie a slightly-too-easy way out.
But, that's probably just me. And I can always bide my time until the next time some poor fool gives Peter Strickland or Panos Cosmatos a decent budget to play with.
Reunion is a keeper. If you're a fan of anything I've name checked above, or even The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, you'll find plenty to like a great deal here.
This is a mature, skilfully made, beautifully shot, edited and designed film that revels in being exactly the old-fashioned horror the poster and the trailer are promising.
There's none of your compromised “horror/comedy” nonsense here. Reunion just wants to scare you silly. You'll be delighted at how often it succeeds.
- Graeme Tuckett, STUFF
Reunion is now playing at Light House Petone and Cuba!