Housebound - review
Directed by Gerard Johnstone
From the moment Housebound opens with Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) and her boyfriend clumsily and hilariously trying to bust open an ATM with a sledgehammer, you know you’re in the hands of a capable director and you can settle back and enjoy the ride. And it’s some ride, with action that becomes progressively more bloody, thrilling, funny and outlandish as its 110 minutes of gothic comic horror unfolds.
It was a stroke of genius to make the central character a would-be robber who is sentenced to home detention at her mother’s house. First, she’s obviously a bad-ass and, second, she isn’t going anywhere much outside the gloomy home she’s confined to for eight months. It’s the stuff of claustrophobic nightmares: Kylie can’t escape from a house she strongly suspects is haunted — at least not without getting herself into a whole lot more trouble.
Throw in her long-suffering mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), Miriam’s dopey partner Graeme (Ross Harper) and a security guard Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who’s hired to monitor Kylie’s electronic ankle bracelet and who’s deeply interested in the paranormal, and the scene is set for an inventive horror comedy that shakes up the conventions of the genre.
Te Wiata and O’Reilly play off each other effortlessly. Te Wiata is a down-trodden mum with a blinking disbelief that her life has been suddenly upturned by the arrival of her truculent daughter — the house guest from hell, convinced there are other unwanted, unseen house guests who are even more disruptive than she is.
The easy-going Amos is an excellent foil to Kylie and her petulant, hostile behaviour, and a perfect sleuth-buddy to help her sort out what exactly is going on inside the house.
The wildcard is the court-appointed, slimy and sinister psychologist Dennis (Cameron Rhodes), who turns out to be vital to the plot in a way that is totally at odds with the sentencing judge’s hope he will help her turn her life around.
The film’s only weakness is that the pacing sags slightly in the middle when Kylie and Amos investigate the oddball next door, Kraglund (Mick Innes). In fact, letting Kylie out of the house isn’t an entirely well-judged plot move: it breaks the tension inherent in her mother’s creaking, sighing house, but we’re back in there soon enough, ready for the pressure-cooker to steam up all over again.
O’Reilly is a standout among an excellent cast, in a film with enough thrills and spills of blood to keep you on the edge of your seat until its bloody denouement.
Hats off to Gerard Johnstone, who wrote, directed and edited this excellent addition to New Zealand’s horror-comedy canon.