Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 47 minutes
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Directed by: Gerard Johnstone
Written by: Gerard Johnstone
Starring: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Cameron Rhodes & Millen Baird
HOUSEBOUND is a horror-comedy from New Zealand that’s been receiving a ton of positive buzz since its premiere at South By Southwest in March. I was surprised given how unappealing and standard the promotional material for the film looked. It appeared that the comedy angle was forced and that there wasn’t going to be a whole lot in the way of scares either. Thanks to the prodding of stellar reviews and many friends pointing me in its direction, I finally caved in and gave this flick a watch. I’m walking away very happy. HOUSEBOUND is easily the best horror comedy since CABIN IN THE WOODS, but its far from a satire or spoof. I’d wager that this is the best horror comedy of its type since Peter Jackson’s DEAD-ALIVE. By that I mean it has a unique flavor that’s specific to its country and plenty of colorful characters to boot.
Kylie is a troubled young woman who’s been in and out of rehabilitation programs that haven’t left a single mark on her attitude. After the botched theft of an ATM, Kylie is sentenced to eight months of house-arrest at her mother’s sprawling mansion. The place is dingy, gloomy and supposedly haunted. Kylie scoffs at the possibilities of a ghost living in the walls of her mom’s home, but finds that she might be mistaken. An aggressive presence has set its sights on her. Aided by a security guard obsessed with the paranormal, and her well-intentioned mother, Kylie brings the skeletons out of the house’s closet…but some of these skeletons fight back.
HOUSEBOUND is a rare breed of horror comedy. Most of this subgenre leans more on the hilarious side of things and treats everything else with a campy tongue-in-cheek. Not that there aren’t moments like that in HOUSEBOUND, but there’s a sincere sense of slow-building tension as new clues to the mystery are revealed. At first, the story seems pretty cut and dry. You strongly suspect where everything is heading and see no reason why it wouldn’t just be a by-the-numbers plot. It’s far from it though, new pieces of the puzzle emerge after the first third and keep popping up leading into the finale. Director/writer Gerard Johnstone does a brilliant job of knocking the viewer off the scent of where things are going with neat red herrings that aren’t entirely pointless. Everything leads to something else and it takes a while to see how smart the script actually is.
Of course, the plot wouldn’t be worth much if the characters weren’t enjoyable to watch. This is where HOUSEBOUND excels. Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is intentionally unlikable from the start, but actually grows on the viewer after a while. It doesn’t take long before you’re rooting for her to come out on top of this macabre mess. Side characters like a security guard sidekick, a concerned psychiatrist, a quiet stepfather and two sarcastic cops also lend a whole lot to what may at first appear to be a fairly straight-forward story. Without a doubt, the funniest character here is Kylie’s mother. Rima Te Wiata is absolutely hysterical as a well-intentioned parent who is so kind that her politeness lends to some of the film’s biggest laughs (especially one scene in the finale).
Speaking of which, the last 30 minutes are phenomenal. My one complaint is about a scene before the final barrage of actual suspense mixed with big laughs comes. There is a moment when a specific character made a stupid decision that seemed radically out-of-place from everything I had seen from this person up to this point. It was so distracting and frustrating that it killed a bit of momentum for about 10 minutes. It wasn’t like those 10 minutes were bad, but they were slow-paced. This being said, the ending keeps building and building on top of everything shown throughout the story. It’s got some huge jokes that work well along with real tension.
HOUSEBOUND is horror-comedy with a unique taste that only New Zealanders seem to nail in this subgenre (DEAD-ALIVE, BLACK SHEEP). This film is close to perfection and every single piece of praise is well-earned. Don’t let anyone give you specific details about this film, because there’s a lot of fun in being surprised at how far things go in unexpected directions. HOUSEBOUND is required viewing for this Halloween! Give it a look. You won’t be disappointed. Just turn off the lights, eat some popcorn, and have a blast!