★★★ / ★★★★
Because the judge believes that she needs a bit of stability in her life, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is sentenced to spend eight months on house arrest after she is caught stealing from an ATM. However, it isn’t going to be a walk in the park because she does not get along with Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), her mother, and Graeme (Ross Harper), her stepfather. Graeme is not much of a conversationalist while Miriam is convinced that the house is haunted. Kylie does not believe in ghosts. That is, until she starts to hear strange noises at night and often feels that someone—or something—is watching her.
Written and directed by Gerard Johnstone, “Housebound” is horror-comedy-thriller that often transforms which makes it exciting and alive. It is difficult to predict whether a scene being set up will have a funny, suspenseful, or downright horrifying punchline. And because it embraces the disparate genres from which it draws inspiration instead of subverting or satirizing them, it is a consistently good time throughout.
I enjoyed that it is uncertain, at least initially, whether we are supposed to like Kylie. She is disrespectful, vulgar, a menace to society. We do not pity her for a second when she gets her sentence. In fact, some might argue she got off too easily. She thinks she’s so tough and so we are amused when that toughness is tested against a potential paranormal phenomenon.
After all, how can you fight something that you can hear, see, and haunt your mind but cannot touch? We want her to investigate the sounds she hears coming from the basement. We want her to get scared because she puts on an act of fearlessness. We want her to try to explain to others who might not believe what she has experienced. And yet we do not want to see her harmed. That is a difficult challenge that the screenplay has managed to overcome.
The bump-in-the-night scenes are effective because these are inspired by old-school horror. No CGI is employed. The camera tends to take its time to slither from one part of the room to another. The score is minimal. The lighting creates shadows in all the right places. Remove the comedic sections of the film and what remains is a good horror picture. The comedy is certainly most welcome when the tension becomes almost unbearable.
O’Reilly and Wiata are good casting choices. They may not look alike and the personalities of their characters are complete opposites but we believe Kylie and Miriam are related. They key is the latter section of the story in which the two are forced to work together in order to overcome the challenge and survive. The script is wise to allow us to feel that there is love shared between the two even though they may not get along most of the time. Thus, we care about their fates and we wonder whether the experience would force them to feel more connected to each other before the end credits.
“Housebound” is highly likely to exceed the expectations of those who go into it blind. What I admired most about it is its willingness to not just become another horror-comedy filled with gross-out scenes coupled with a joke or two. Its contemporaries often rely on this formula because that fits most people’s definition of a horror-comedy. Suspense and creativity can be found here, too.