When wayward teen, Kylie is sentenced to home detention, she finds herself confronted by a hostile spirit who seems less than happy about her return.
Whilst Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s recent What We Do in the Shadows played absolutely everything for laughs, first-time writer-helmer Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound will certainly have you in hysterics but it’s also quite the hair-raiser. Despite this being his debut feature, Johnstone has positively mastered the art of writing caustic comedy and he clearly possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of the horror genre. What we get as a result is a sui generis take on garden-variety tropes that succeeds on every level thanks to such singular performances and a twist-ridden plot that is pretty much as unpredictable as they come.
To give you a rough idea what to expect, Housebound plays out as a kind of comedic riff on films like 100 Feet and Disturbia as we find social scofflaw Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) condemned to eight months home detention with her well-intentioned yet ever so loose-lipped mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and wholly house-trained stepfather Graeme (Ross Harper).
O’Morgan’s tetchy tomboy character runs totally against the horror honey grain and what we get instead of the usual protuberant bouncy babes in the wood is a tough as nails delinquent ready to smash anything resembling the paranormal right in the face. I can’t get enough of this recent upsurge of kick arse women in genre flicks of late with both You’re Next and Wyrmwood both springing to mind. As badass as O’Morgan’s character might be, although Kylie first turns a blind eye to her mother’s long-held conviction that the house is haunted, she still gets the fear of God put into her on the odd occasion – something absolutely necessary to keep things creepy. This is where the success of the film really lies as O’Reilly really prevails in both the funny and the fear. This is particularly the case in dialogue-free scenes where her looks convey so much more than words ever could (lest we forget her bewildering bladder control in one particularly creepy scene that will have you pissing yourself with laughter. The money my dad would pay to be able to control his weak bladder like that now!).
Whilst the star of the show is, without a doubt, O’Reilly’s unruly deviant, it’s Rima Te Wiata’s Miriam that provides the film with its treasure trove of comedy gold. As I said, she’s got quite the gift of the gab and her empty-headedness and constant inopportune remarks make for some of the most bizarre and funniest scene-stealing moments. Telling Kylie how spoilt she is for getting to wear such a hi-tech gadget on her ankle is a shining example of such nescience. I think what makes it all the funnier is the fact that everyone will see something of their own mother in Miriam, whether it be her overbearing concern, the gossipmonger in her, her Corrie fixation, and a long list of etceteras… Whilst on the comedy side of things, plaudits must also go to Glen-Paul Waru for his performance as local security officer, Amos whose amateur paranormal investigation skills provide for plenty of Ghostbuster-esque blunderings.
Couple all of the above with the fact that Johnstone knows exactly how to tease an audience by peeling back reveal after reveal and chucking in curveball after curveball and you won’t bat an eyelid right up to the hilariously hellish climax.
Composer Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper’s score certainly mustn’t go unmentioned. Despite the lashings of comedy served up in the film, there’s not a trace of spoofy music to be found and he ramps up the tension like nobody’s business, turning even a trip to the loo and a cigarette smoke-off with a neighbour into a thing of nightmares. Aside from Bridgman-Cooper’s score, as a side note, don’t say I didn’t warn you when you find yourself humming the HELLO MOTO ringtone relentlessly for weeks on end after watching the film. Although a completely different ringtone was first intended, this familiar retro melody fits right in with the spirit of the film.
Gerard Johnstone’s delectable debut is yet another sterling example of stainless horror-comedy hailing from New Zealand with fun and frights aplenty, something I’m sure the soon-to-be-released Deathgasm will also provide in leaps and bounds. Housebound is a film bound for cult status and the mere fact New Line are already readying a remake is testament to that very fact.
Words: Howard Gorman (@HowardGorman)