First things first. This is not a movie that will answer the question of how to survive if under house arrest with your parents. What it does tell you is how simple effects, superb acting and clever corkscrewing of the traditional horror movie twist can really take a film from average to excellent. Warning, if you are a gore junkie who loves to have blood, guts and brain matter splattered across your mental windshield with reckless abandon, this is probably not going to make your top ten.
This film didn't take itself too seriously as far as being original but in the end managed to be really original in many ways. It managed to effectively creep you out, while making you laugh at some really inappropriate moments then taking old horror movie story props and giving them a fresh coat of paint and pain.
The first thing is that the female lead, played beautifully by Morgana O'Reilly, is just a jerk. You don't like her, you don't even want to like her and yet, you will find yourself rooting for her, not only to uncover the truth, but to reconcile her emotions with her mother. This had me puzzled because usually horror films set you up to have empathy for characters that are going to undergo trauma, whether physically or mentally. The ones you don't like die quickly and horribly, the good ones(especially virgins in the eighties) last till the end and are usually plucky and spirited. Kylie is neither of these. She's foul mouthed, smart-assed and very quick to beat the crap out of anyone and anything that gets in her way.
What they did with her is subtlety evolve the character to a point where you do like her, in spite of her generally piss off world attitude, without any huge dramatic soulful reckonings between mother and daughter. They manage to do this with all the characters including the entity that's haunting this house. Kylie's trapped because she's made some seriously bad choices in her life, everyone else has their own secret reasons that become known as the film plays out.
The house, the haunting, all of it could be easily played off as just another woman losing her mind or secretly having flashbacks to some childhood trauma, and for brief moments the film wants you to believe that. But, there are plot developments that throw you off the well played horror movie theme ride right from the start. It's a trend I've seen in other Indy films, including one that probably slipped under the radar, Find Me, and it's simple. When the lead character starts seeing, hearing and just generally believing the house is haunted, they are not dismissed as delusional or hysterical (always a offensively popular choice when the lead is female). Instead, there is a general consensus that yes, there probably is a ghost/entity but what are we going to do about it? That becomes the focus of the film and the mistakes that ensue can define whether this story goes right or horribly wrong, both literally and metaphorically. What makes this an improvement over most horror films of this type is that it's clearly allowing for the modern attitude towards ghost and the paranormal that has taken place over the last decade.
So you have Kylie, ex-junkie generally annoying post-juvenile delinquent who left home years ago for a hazy back story reason (they don't give it to you on purpose). She has now reached the point where the judge feels that only house arrest with her mother will do the trick of turning her life around(the implication of that should send any child reeling). Her overly chatty but loving mother, is played by a great actor, Rima Te Wiatu, who manages to mildly irritate and amuse you all at the same time.
Her mom drives her nuts, and Kylie will irritate the hell out of you with how she treats her slightly goofy but generally kind mother, and her soft spoken step-dad. You get hints of what might have compelled Kylie to leave home but nothing is defined too clearly. They tease you with just enough that you think there might be a small degree of validity in why she is so unforgiving to her mother. Those teases by the way? Very much red herrings, that's all I'm going to say.
As the movie starts to deliver on the odd noises, strange events and other horror genre props, things are not handled at all the way you'd expect. Her mother freely acknowledges that yes, for years they've dealt with paranormal phenomenon, but what can you do?(Done here with such a mother's exasperated sigh that you'd think it was just another errant child she was dealing with rather than the paranormal.) Kylie's ankle bracelet security officer (I have no idea what they are actually called in New Zealand) turns out to be a amateur ghost investigator who urges Kylie to find out why this spirit may be contacting her. Kylie just wants to get the hell out and will do anything to accomplish that, her way of dealing with a spooky creaking door is to take it off it's hinges.
But very soon, whatever IT is, is going to make sure she has to deal with it, and her past, whether she wants too or not. I want to point out that while there is a lot of humor in this movie, it never loses the darker edges, the overall sense that something is terribly wrong. The lighting, camera angles, even the way certain actors faces are shot all contribute to a sense of dread that never goes away but doesn't overshadow the human conflict that is front and center of most of the film.
I could tell you so much more, like about a teddy bear from hell that looks like Teddy Ruxpins lunatic brother. The inventive twist on an old horror movie favorite that is not easily seen coming. The creep you the hell out basement explorations for a missing phone with eerie ringtone, but I've already said too much. I simply can't ruin this experience for the true horror film buff when right now the pickings for a great horror movie are so slim. I can tell you that the plot devices are extremely clever and well played, the gore is expertly delivered for maximum effect and, conversely, hilarity. You will never look at a cheese grater the same way again, I promise you. In the end, the development of both character and unveiling of the truth behind who is really housebound is masterfully handled with only small degree of cliche, a great deal of hilarious black humor and some genuinely excellent acting.