Funny and frightening in equal measure, this little horror-comedy from New Zealand is well worth a watch.
Scary without relying on jump-scares, gory without fetishising bloody violence, funny without leaning on cheap gags, Housebound is a horror-comedy that manages to nail both genres at the same time, even when many films struggle to cope with just the one. Director and writer Gerard Johnstone’s feature-film debut plays around with the clichés and conventions of horror, not just ridiculing them (the more obvious route), but defying them and quite skilfully subverting them to make a satisfying, refreshing horror flick.
The film follows Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) as she is convicted of a theft (which serves as the film’s hilarious opening scene) and sentenced to house arrest with her estranged mother. There she is faced with an eerily silent, gruff elderly man, a supposed haunting, an over-zealous ghost hunter who calmly explains to her that “You can’t punch ectoplasm”, and a murder mystery. What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable hour-and-a-half of twists, scares, and ridiculous scenarios.
O’Reilly’s performance is good all the way through the film, her sullen, cynical take on life and the events she gets wrapped up in forming the cornerstone of the entire film, being as far-removed as possible from the hysterical idiocy so common in female characters in horror films. The rest of the cast do well too – Rima Te Wiata’s role as Kylie’s oblivious chatterbox mother is consistently funny, and invests you in her character’s safety when the film takes a violent turn, while Glen-Paul Waru is similarly effective as Amos, a kind-hearted parole officer who moonlights as an amateur ghost hunter.
Housebound is a delightfully well-made film, tension mounting steadily as each scene progresses through a clever use of well-established horror tropes. Without fail, you expect the ghost or monster or supernatural villain to make its appearance at certain moments – when Kylie is in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, or when she creeps into her basement at night – and without fail your expectation is not met. Johnstone either lets those moments pass by without elaboration, or uses them as opportunities for humour, and saves the scary stuff for when you actually don’t expect it. The ultimate reveal of the monster (or spirit, or spooky being) is, as with the rest of the film, well-done, it isn’t a disappointment disguised as a jump-scare, but something genuinely creepy, and there is even a moment of heartfelt compassion tucked neatly into the third act.
Scary and hilarious in equal measure, this little New Zealand flick is a quite wonderful film, one that never compromises its narrative or its characters for a cheap shock, but at the same time is prepared to unashamedly wade into the ridiculous (which is the only way to pull something like that off) when necessary. I won’t go as far as to equate it with Shaun of the Dead (because, really, nothing will ever be that good), but Housebound certainly deserves to be said with the same breath, and that in itself is high praise.
Housebound, directed by Gerard Johnstone, is distributed in the UK by MFA Filmdistribution, Certificate 18.