Housebound April 15, 2016
If I were under the impression that my house were haunted, I wouldn’t wait around awhile for some scary shit to spit on my neck — I’d get out of there. Calling upon a paranormal investigator to cement my fears would be a possibility if I were more of a risk-taker, but as someone who puts my health, both physically and mentally, over anything else (as any person in their right mind should), playing house in a home where vengeful spirits lurk is something at the bottom of my bucket list (if I were to take the time to make one, that is).
So I’ve always considered it unthinkable that characters in haunted house movies continually, and blatantly, ignore every warning sign that comes their way until it’s much too late for second chances. It’s bad enough that they wander through dark hallways and pitch-black staircases when an inexplicable bump in the night makes itself known, and it’s bad enough that they’d prefer to emulate the characters of Friday the 13th rather than the ones of Scream. Even during one of the best horror movies of the decade, The Conjuring, I was distracted by the fact that the fictional ensemble really felt the need to stay in a house that obviously had something against them, and by the fact that the characters were, unfortunately, based on real people who made many of the same head-scratching mistakes.
2014’s Housebound, a New Zealand import, is a haunted house movie, but don’t expect it to insult your intelligence in the ways that so many other entries in the genre do. The characters do stay in the said haunted house much longer than we might, but only because its scrappy main is suspicious that it isn’t actually a bed of supernatural terror responsible for all the mayhem. Tropes are here, too (ranging from such classics as The Killer That Wouldn’t Die to I’m In Danger But the Police Think I’m Crazy), but, being a horror comedy, Housebound plays with them and puts a wickedly humorous spin on its aftereffects. It’s a fun, bloody monkeyshine of a thriller perfect for horror buffs and inviting for the outsider who can deal with the humor of Re-Animator but not the gore.
In Housebound, a first-rate Morgana O’Reilly stars as Kylie Bucknell, a ne’er-do-well put under house arrest after a botched robbery attempt. With a past consisting mostly of drug use, crime, and bad men, she’s all but said goodbye to her family, bridges burned and relationships severed. But house arrest is a tricky thing, and Kylie doesn’t have the kind of home the law is looking for. To her disdain, she's placed in the very same two-story she grew up in, a scenario nothing less than a nightmare for a born rebel.
As always, Kylie doesn’t get along with her mother (Rima Te Wiata), who is middle-aged and is fed a steady diet of gossip magazines and infomercials, and she certainly doesn’t like her stepfather (Ross Harper), who prefers to stay quiet and more or less is dominated by his wife. She watches the clock as if it might bring her some relief, desperate to again be part of a world that doesn’t live off nine-to-five jobs and mild-mannered kindliness.
But a little while after arriving at her temporary living quarters does Kylie begin to notice that something is a bit off about her childhood home. Strange noises flicker in and out during the night. A presence seems to be watching her during all hours of the day. Objects disappear and move as if the house were occupied by yet another person. So, being bored and curious as to why the home seems to be out to get her, she does some Nancy Drew style snooping. And, sure enough, it’s clear that we’re not dealing with your regular old — shall I say it again? — haunted house.
Housebound is Gerard Johnstone's feature-length debut, and it is an excellently macabre lark that increases in charm the more time we spend with it. Nifty and quick-witted, with hints of valid darkness, it thrills as often as it brings us to fits of laughter, and there isn’t a thing wrong with liking a couple of dashes of humor to go along with your entrée of horror. Johnstone has more than a handful of tricks up his sleeve, concocting a genuinely compelling whodunit, and I especially like how he writes Kylie not as a weak Woman In Trouble but as a Woman In Trouble who’s annoyed with being in trouble but luckily has the street smarts to get herself out of it.
At this point in the latter-day horror genre, you might be pressed to find an oddity as charismatic as Housebound. Sure, you’ve got a few indie mini-masterpieces here and there, but this one has meat on its bones, never feeling like an homage to when the genre was at its peak. It is very much itself, and I’m curious to see what dulcetly black offering Johnstone will come up with next. B+