Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is a troublemaker and thrill-seeker. Her latest stunt is to steal the safe from an ATM. When she gets caught, the judge sentences her to house arrest at her mother’s house, where she grew up.
Kylie doesn’t get along with her mother (Rima Te Wiata) or her step-father (Cameron Rhodes), and staying in the house with them is torturous to her. She’s forced to wear an ankle monitor, so sneaking away is not an option. She becomes even more annoyed when one night, after asking repeatedly to use the phone, she hears her mother calling into a radio program rather than making the “important call” she said she was making.
The topic of the program is hauntings, and Kylie hears her mother describe the spooky occurances that have taken place in the very home where she’s under house arrest. She’s skeptical at first, until she begins to experience strange things herself.
Housebound was written and directed by New Zealand filmmaker Gerard Johnstone.
I heard a lot of positive things about this horror-comedy flick prior to watching, and to be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by it as a result. The pace is somewhat inconsistent in the beginning, at times slow.
But when Housebound works, it works brilliantly, and it gets progressively better as it moves along. There’s one scene in the basement, around twenty minutes in, where a human-shaped object covered in a sheet is moving toward Kylie, as though a ghost is about to attack her. It turns out to be an enormous statue of Jesus, which had me laughing out loud. Things only pick up from there.
In another scene, Kylie gets into a hilarious fist fight with a possibly-possessed teddy bear that’s only about 1/5 the size of a human and not scary at all (though it does have a demonic voice). Scenes on par with these in terms of humor are scattered throughout the film.
Some of the dialogue is very funny as well, delivered effectively by the cast. (“WHY WOULD ANYBODY DONATE TO A BED AND BREAKFAST, GRAEME?!”) Since this is a horror-comedy, everyone is in on the joke, and they try their darnedest to bring the laughs — often with great success.
There are a couple of genuinely good “spook” moments in the film as well. Taking a cue from my love William Castle’s famous The Tingler theater scene, there’s one scene that takes place in total darkness. It takes place in a home rather than a theater, but the effect is similar. The characters can be heard speaking, but the screen is black and the mood is ominous. It’s one of the film’s jumpier moments.
Even the spookiest moments are usually resolved in comic ways. There are quite a few scenes that build up suspense for a moment but then don’t deliver a scream-worthy payoff. For instance, soon after the Jesus statue incident, Kylie, her mother, and neighbor Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) are listening to a tape. They’re hoping they’ve caught a ghost’s voice on it, after prompting paranormal interaction with a series of pointed questions. The tape plays, and suspense builds, with the viewer expecting a typical “GET OUT” or “I’LL KILL YOU” proclamation from the spirit world. But the tape is blank, aside from the voices of the still-living humans doing the asking.
Building into a genuinely intriguing murder-mystery, Housebound is an enjoyable watch, even if it isn’t quite as great as I expected it to be. I’d say it’s well worth a viewing for fans of the horror-comedy genre. The score: 3.8/5