Jake Mahaffy and Natasha Kermani deliver two wildly different and effective stories about women trapped in their homes
You can’t outrun your past and you can never, truly, go home again. Those are a few of the lessons in store for Ellie when her plans for a peaceful weekend at her grandparents’ home get blown to hell in Reunion. Writer-director Jake Mahaffy has put together a tense, unnerving film about the perpetuation of psychological and physical abuse, and how that can simultaneously drive a family apart and bind them tighter together. This is psychological horror that digs deep into its characters and lays bare everything they thought they could keep hidden. It’s as unsettling as it is effective.
Ellie (Emma Draper), pregnant and in desperate need of some rest, heads out to her grandparents’ home figuring she’ll have the place to herself since the grandparents are dead. Instead of an empty house, Ellie finds her parents there. Right from the jump there’s an uneasy atmosphere in the house, it’s clear this is a most unpleasant surprise for everyone. Ellie’s mom, Ivy (Julia Ormond) is busy going over the house, cleaning, packing, and getting the house ready for sale. She’s also caring for her wheelchair-bound husband, the source of most of the family’s problems. Ivy constantly mentions how terrible a husband and father he was, as if there’s any chance of Ellie forgetting the abuse and pain he inflicted on his family.
The biggest revelation for Ellie, however, is that Ivy may have done just as much damage. Through flashbacks we see that Ivy has been gaslighting Ellie her whole life. Ivy spent Ellie’s childhood highlighting the sins of the father while subtly inflicting her own trauma on Ellie. And, if that wasn’t enough, Ellie is having visions of Cara, the adopted sister who died when the girls were just kids. Reunion is essentially a two-hander, with Draper and Ormond volleying back and forth. Their performances are excellent. They convey a lifetime’s worth of history with just a few caustic looks. Mahaffy’s visual style emphasizes the claustrophobia of being in the house, trapped with the people who have defined your whole life. The sprawling home is a psychological torture chamber, with each room and hall conjuring up the kind of memories you spend your whole life running from. No one knows you, or can hurt you, like family.
Reunion is the kind of intimate familial horror that resonates in any era. It pairs well with contemporaries like Ari Aster’s Hereditary, Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, and Natalie Erika James’ Relic. It’s incisive, observant, and makes its characters earn their catharsis.
A home invasion thriller that’s more like a mind invasion, Lucky is a deeply unsettling film about a woman’s battle against numerous unrelenting forces. Brea Grant, who also wrote the script, stars as May Ryer, a self-help author who is in deep need of self help. Every night she finds herself reliving a nightmare. A masked man breaks into her home and attacks her night after night. May fights back but the intruder always disappears before the police can apprehend him. The kicker is that everyone, from her boyfriend Ted (Dhruv Uday Singh), to her assistant Edie (Yasmine Al-Bustami), to the officers and detectives who answer May’s calls, can only muster courteous indifference to her demands for help. May has no choice but to go it alone.
The central metaphor at the heart of the story is so strong and flexible that any of the themes of victimhood, believing women, gaslighting, trauma, marriage, or the costs of professional success could anchor the film on their own. Instead, Grant and director Natasha Kermani pack all of that and more into a fist-tight 80 minutes that is sure to get under your skin and linger.