Housebound (2014, Gerald Johnstone)
Starring Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, and Cameron Rhodes
Housebound is an odd little film, one that weaves a tale of equal parts intrigue and offbeat comedy. First-time director Gerald Johnstone has created a New Zealand horror film that harkens back to Peter Jackson’s sense of dark comedy in his first few films (Bad Taste, Meet the Feebles, Dead Alive). But Housebound also manages to be a very creepy, well-made haunted house tale as well, replete with creepy dolls, a decrepit old basement, creaks in the doors and walls, and flickering lights.
What makes Housebound unique, however, is the way the premise is handled. The film is focused on Kylie, a 20-something delinquent who is caught breaking into an ATM and is sentenced to house arrest at her estranged mother’s house. This house, of course, is multiple stories, surrounded by old trees, and happens to have a very frightening bearded neighbor who skins possums next door. The oddities don’t stop there, either. The family itself is odd. The mother, who hasn’t seen her daughter in a long time, is a chatty Kathy who spews random nonsense most of the time, though her intentions are never maniacal. She calls into a radio show about how ghosts are just overactive imagination, and proceeds to tell them they are wrong, and that ghosts do exist…in her basement. Of course, Kylie doesn’t believe her and treats both her mother and her silent stepfather with disdain. But then she starts to believe ghosts are in the house when she experiences something grab her leg while hunting for her cell phone.
Her parole officer, an amiable and slightly chubby man named Amos, also happens to be an avid ghost hunter and agrees to help the family pro-bono. This all might sound a bit genre-worn, but the film walks a tight line between engaging a good haunting story while also taking the piss out of it. Amos, for example, is reminiscent of the bumbling ghost hunters in Insidious. The music often builds to crescendo that is paid off with a sight gag like a ¾ scale Jesus statue. Things that are supposed to be scary are made funny just by the characters’ facial expressions, awkward silences, and the sense that you never know if something will actually scare you or make you giggle with a slight nervousness. That and the random spurts of bloody violence that are almost never played straight- it’s more macabre than truly frightening. But that’s what you need in this kind of film.
Not only that, but the primary joke in the film is to make fun of the “mindfuck” subgenre of horror-thriller, in which a character is told they are crazy but is certain they are not, and an investigation ensues revealing dreaded secrets about the family, the house, and eventually the truth. This is a common aspect of horror/thriller like Sixth Sense, The Others, Skeleton Key, Mama, Secret Window, A Tale of Two Sisters, Shutter Island, and 1408. But in Housebound, it’s a tongue-in-cheek gag. It isn’t really all in her head… is it? The film teases you and even seems to switch genres at one point, but it works for the most part. There are some gags that don’t go anywhere, but that’s possibly intentional considering how many useless jump scares are common in these types of films. The whole “Ghost Hunters” gag doesn’t last very long, either, which is also a bit of a missed opportunity considering I love seeing those idiots get mocked. It unfortunately gets dropped about halfway through the film.
Though I’m surprised at how much I liked the characters. Even the stepdad, who barely speaks, makes good on endearing himself to the audience when he finally does. Kylie herself is a bit of a shit, but her feisty attitude carries the film and keeps the tone mostly light throughout. Sadly, there’s one character in particular that got overlooked during the last act, though, which frustrated me a bit. I won’t spoil it here but I certainly felt that everything could have come together a little bit better. It starts to get tiresome as the film nears the final act, and the last scene is a bit too happy for my taste considering what came before it. That being said, it may be intentional to further mock the subgenre, which frequently leaves with a “monster isn’t dead yet” boo scare. Whatever the case, the film is very well-made, funny, insightful, and a hell of a lot of fun. Definitely worth checking out.