As a sheepshagging Kiwi myself, I was pleasantly surprised to see we have some serious genre talent to contribute to the world of horror. Gerard Johnstone, whose only previous experience in the biz is writing comedic TV shows, has created a tense, funny haunted-house picture that effectively delivers a balance of laughs and scares.
Kylie Bucknell (a rough, dyed-up Morgana O’Reilly), is sentenced to home detention after a bank robbery goes horribly wrong. With nowhere else to go, she returns to the house she grew up in. Her mother (Rima Te Wiata), a sweet but blabby woman is convinced there is a ghost in the house. Kylie, not the type of person to be swayed by such nonsense, thinks her mother has lost the plot. But, when she too is subjected to whispers in the night and bumps in the walls and a talking teddy bears, she wonders if there’s a spirit in the house a bit too happy to see her, or if she’s just lost her marbles my proxy.
Housebound was filmed on a very small budget, of course, typical for a New Zealand film. But that’s okay, because the film mostly takes place inside a big, creaky house, giving Johnstone a perfect set-up to provide some genuine, old-school scares. Everything from the setting to the scratchy music just screams of the 70’s and 80’s horror flicks Johnstone must have watched endlessly for inspiration. Johnstone’s script is wickedly inventive, again harkening back to the good old days of horror storytelling. One could say there are a lot of modern horror films lacking a solid narrative aspect, but Johnstone understands that the scares are all the more effective when you’re telling a story people can actually care about.
You might think the ‘haunted house’ formula is hackneyed to the point of no return, but Housebound keeps you guessing until the very end. It has a heartfelt story played brilliantly by the actors, and clever, unconventional scares that will not only make you chop a log in your pants, but also make you think about where the story is really going. If there’s one word to describe this movie, it’s consistent.
If you’re a fan of gore, be patient. Johnstone keeps the blood on hold for the finale, which is a dazzling spectacle of pure mayhem. Not wanting to spoil anything, I’ll just say that lovers of the sillier/nastier side of horror will have a new found faith in a director who so effortlessly constructs a seemingly one-note movie and it fills it with unexpected emotion and flare.
Housebound has a great story, great scares and great performances. The only thing Johnstone can be accused of is drawing the movie out a little bit more than necessary. A more concise, compact running time could have made Housebound even more relentless and crazy, not giving us time to catch our breaths or change our pants. Instead, there are several lulls in the film, the rookie director sometimes taking too much time between the juicy parts delving into a narrative that is best told when it is left to the imagination. But for a modern horror film, that’s a small complaint.
Housebound is an unexpected, compelling thrill-ride made passionately by a director who obviously loves his horror. Other filmmakers should take note; scare us, but tell us a story we want to hear too.