Housebound is a demented and hilarious yarn from New Zealand that gains its tension by ensuring we’re never 100% sure when to laugh and or scream. That balance is engaging from the first minute and lasts through clear to the end, resulting in a film that fans of horror-comedies have been yearning for the past several years.
When Kylie Bucknell’s (Morgana O’Reilly) hard living catches up to her, she’s forced into house arrest in the home she desperately tried to escape from in her younger days. Her blabbermouth of a mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) tells anyone that will listen that their house is haunted, but Kylie dismisses her ramblings as those of a bored housewife. When the bumps in the night and the unsettling whispers start to grow, she learns more about the history of the house and what happened there. Kylie starts wondering if she inherited her mother’s overactive imagination or if this house really is possessed.
The debut feature from writer/director Gerard Johnstone is a well shot and well designed affair. The house in which the bulk of the action takes place feels alive and rich with stories. The story never leans on one specific note, making the film’s leaps between the funny and the scary all the more effective. It gets a little overstuffed at times as a result of taking a bit too much time to tell a simple story, but the individual beats hit well and the cast embraces the material fully.
O’Reilly is the right mix of sassy and scared as our protagonist, bringing some nuance and understanding to the role. She knows when to be scared, when to be sarcastic, and when to be a total badass. It’s an important balance than most films with a hero like this tend to overlook in favour of showing only a single emotion and no range whatsoever. The rest of the ensemble plays it all to a T and, showcasing a broad spectrum of emotions that keep us guessing.
Ultimately, Housebound reminds me why we go to horror movies in the first place: to laugh, to scream and to have a hell of a lot of fun. After a few years where “fun” and “horror” were words that tended to never go hand-in-hand, Johnstone makes it cool to be scared again.
In addition to a theatrical at the Carlton in Toronto starting Friday, Housebound is also now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand. If you can, though, watch it in a theatre with an audience for an extra bit of fun.