Of all the tropes in horror, the haunted house just might be the oldest one. No one thought another original haunted house could be made, but Gerard Johnstone’s “Housebound” might be the film that proves them wrong. After an unsuccessful ATM robbery leaves her on an 8-month house arrest sentence, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is right back where she spent her whole life trying to leave: her childhood home.
Welcomed by her cheery mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), and mild-mannered stepfather, Graeme (Ross Harper), Kylie seems content to inflict as much passive-aggressive pain on the loving couple for the duration of her time with them. One night, Kylie hears her mother on a late-night talk show, discussing a number of incidents that give her reason to believe a ghost may be lurking in their presence.
One of the security guards hired to handle Kylie’s case, the lovably plump Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), catches wind of these accusations and, as a paranormal enthusiast himself, arranges an investigation using equipment from home. But as he and Kylie investigate the possibility that the house may actually be haunted, they make a number of disturbing discoveries that may or may not reveal the true nature of the situation at hand.
Writer-director Gerard Johnstone’s debut feature relishes in its own absurdity with a host of instantly lovable characters, a truly original screenplay, and some of the best comedy-horror that’s been released in a long while. Offering some clever references to a handful of modern genre classics – “The Shining” and “Hot Fuzz,” among others – “Housebound” is rarely anything less than poignant, unique, and brilliantly infused with deep humanism including themes of addiction, entrapment, and the current state of mental health treatment.
In all of its tension-drenched glory, “Housebound” often plays out like an extremely personal story, and Johnstone’s character work ends up being the film’s greatest asset, especially when he stumbles in the assembling of his many plot elements during the film’s first third. Though he does it with a refreshing lack of expository dialogue, “Housebound” has many components that contribute to its utterly ingenious third act, and the result is a periodically interesting, but ultimately tedious, opening that eventually gives way to the film’s bigger and better themes and set pieces.
Like many other horror-comedies, “Housebound” ultimately leans on one genre more than the other, and while it’s not as scary as it should (or could) be, the film benefits from a commanding lead performance by Morgana O’Reilly who, like Sharni Vinson in Adam Wingard’s “You’re Next,” completely subverts the expectations set up by decades of gender inequality in the horror genre, and ends up becoming the most kick-ass heroine of the year.
As her mother, Rima Ti Wieta is absolutely wonderful, offering a sympathetic and relatable performance that will strike a chord with any mother. As her soft-spoken husband, Ross Harper accomplishes everything he needs to with just a facial expression, an eye movement, and a handful of words. He is both within the narrative and to the audience, “Housebound’s” silent hero, bringing so much depth to a thankless but skillfully written supporting role.
Johnstone’s film may not be spectacular on all fronts, but it’s hugely original and often hits impressive emotional beats that few horror films ever do. Johnstone has an ear for characters and an eye for stylish-but-not-too-stylish visuals that have the power to establish him as a daring new voice in horror. Fans of haunted house movies would be wise to pick “Housebound” for their next movie night.Continue Reading Issue #28
October 24, 2014
1 hr. 47 min.
Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper, Mick Innes, Cameron Rhodes, Ryan Lampp