‘Housebound’ Review: Kiwi-Flavored Horror Comedy


Movie Rating:


It’s hard to classify a movie like ‘Housebound’ by genre. Horror? Comedy? Mystery? Thriller? It’s one of those movies that lends itself to a spot on the horror shelf simply out of any other appropriate classification. However, for those who dig into the dirty depths of that genre, the film serves up a very welcome surprise.

‘Housebound’ is a big blast of entertainment and genre-bending from first time New Zealand filmmaker Gerard Johnstone. His work here is so idiosyncratic and assured that the guy will definitely serve up some very special work in the genre as his career moves on.

Morgana O’Reilly stars as Kylie, a pitiful and lost young woman who opens the story by botching an ATM heist and getting arrested. As punishment, she’s forced into house arrest with her parents. Given that her mother Miriam (hilariously portrayed by Rima Te Wiata) is a Grade A eccentric who compliments her daughter’s new ankle monitoring device as a fancy piece of technology that she’s lucky to have, it’s clear that Kylie is locked in for a painfully long haul.

Things get worse when the home’s haunting, which the crazy mother use to rave about years earlier, starts to take off again with a vengeance. (The house arrest conceit offers a clever answer to the common horror movie question: “Why the heck don’t they just leave this place if it’s haunted?!”). In a weird stroke of luck, a local security guard (Glen-Paul Waru) turns out to be an amateur ghostbuster. However, the more the characters dig into the bizarre supernatural shenanigans in the house, the harder they are to explain. Cue an avalanche of plot twists and buckets of gore comedy. The flick is a wild ride.

From start to finish, writer/director Johnstone excels in mashing together genres and subverting expectations. As a viewer, you’re constantly left off balance and in a state of unease. Just when you think you have a grasp on what type of movie you’re watching, Johnstone pulls another rabbit out of his hat and leaves you in a daze. It’s an amusing style of storytelling far harder to pull off than it seems, and Jonstone executes it all exceedingly well, if not flawlessly. The finale has a few twists and explanatory monologues too many, though they’re all easily forgivable for a first time filmmaker delivering something this accomplished.

Linking all of the competing tones together are Johnstone’s knack for eccentric comedic characterizations (backed by a pretty excellent cast) and his skill with suspense. He also mixes comedy and horror freely, setting up scares that turn into jokes and vice versa with ease. Johnstone even doles out some slapstick gore by the end. It’s hard not to compare the youngster to the twenty-something Peter Jackson who made movies like ‘Bad Taste’ and ‘Dead Alive’. Thankfully, Johnstone can live up to those comparisons while delivering a distinct voice all his own.

The cast are all terrific with standout supporting turns from almost everywhere – especially Te Wiata’s repressed, soap opera obsessed mother. Yet the film is primarily the Morgana O’Reilly show, as the actress is in almost every frame. She’s wonderful as the strong-willed, sarcastic lead. There’s no damsel-in-distress nonsense here. If Kylie is scared by a seemingly possessed toy, then she stabs the hell out of it instantly. If someone offers her advice that sounds like BS, she’ll tear them a new one. It’s a delightfully different take on the horror heroine, which embodies the filmmaker’s gear-shift approach to the project.

If you like horror, dark comedy, mysteries or thrillers, you’ll get everything you want in very unexpected ways. In his first film, Gerard Johnstone has done so much homework that he can toy with audiences convinced that they’ve seen it all before. If the film has some pacing and staging speed bumps, they’re minor flaws in a developing director showing off what he’s capable of. ‘Housebound’ isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s a hell of a calling card. Hopefully someone in Hollywood will notice and give this kid a shot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *