DIRECTOR Gerard Johnstone WRITER Gerard Johnstone STARS Morgana O’Reilly; Rima Te Wiata; Glen-Paul Waru DVD 20 July
Housebound is that rare gem in genre cinema: a comedy-horror that provides well-timed laughs alongside genuine shocks, chills and suspense. Beginning as an oddball haunted-house yarn, an irresistible off-kilter tone prevails throughout and as the frequently madcap plot unfurls, a carefully-crafted screenplay and some riveting performances from a uniformly excellent cast help ground events.
Delinquent Kylie has been placed under house arrest after a botched robbery, forced to return to her childhood home and the guardianship of her overbearing mother and timid stepfather. A series of strange occurrences lead her to suspect the house is haunted, but the film’s plot soon veers off into some very unexpected places; as Kylie delves into the building’s history, she not only uncovers a darkly tragic past, but shady family secrets.
Kylie is unrelentingly practical in her approach to investigating the odd goings-on. Given her moody disposition and issues with authority, she’s a character that may have appeared two-dimensional in a lesser film. Gerard Johnstone’s script and Morgana O’Reilly’s performance ensure Kylie fully convinces as an angry, frustrated young woman with a chip on her shoulder who, throughout the course of the story, becomes a resilient yet believably flawed (anti)heroine. Even an ‘is this all in her head?’ twist is handled with impeccable precision. And, with the film’s use of limited locations, we gain a feel for her mounting frustration and claustrophobia. Effective production design ensures the house, while certainly creepy, is still believable as a lived-in family home harbouring an unfortunate past.
The somewhat unexpected emotional core of the film is the relationship between Kylie and her mother, a large-as-life woman with a penchant for hoarding possessions and an unwavering yet underplayed belief in the paranormal. The familial strife, domestic tensions and generational conflict that stems from their initially distant, hostile relationship, not only provide the film with some of its most comedic moments, but serve to define their characters, which are fleshed out and believable.
The twisting plot draws us ever deeper into macabre shenanigans and deft editing results in moments that switch from laugh-out-loud hilarity to grotesque, stifling suspense in a single beat, always balanced enough to ensure one element never dominates or undermines the other. These constant shifts and revelations don’t disrupt the tone nor do they feel jarring — they are the organic result of a well-written, well-paced screenplay that gradually builds tension and intrigue, ensuring the viewer is riveted throughout. A frenzied chase scene in the final reel is interspersed with several outlandishly funny moments, resulting in an edgy delirium.
While it feels strongly influenced by the work of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and Wes Craven, Johnstone’s film still emerges with a unique identity all its own. It proves that he is not only a director worth keeping an eye on, but a wildly inventive filmmaker with energy, wit and imagination to spare.