Whenever I’m watching a haunted house movie, at some point I’ll invariably ask, “What the hell are you people still doing in that bloody house?” Call me crazy, but when walls begin to bleed – or spectral voices are crying “GET OUT!” – I’d be changing my zip code as fast as humanly possible. I don’t see the point in waiting around to see if a spirit is of the Casper the Friendly Ghost variety, or the revenge type phantoms found in films like The Ring. In the 2014 horror movie Housebound, New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone posits the question, “What if you couldn’t leave? What if you were under house arrest in a haunted house?”
The protagonist of Housebound is one Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), a young woman with serious anger issues is sentenced to eight months house arrest — after a spectacularly failed attempt of robbing an ATM. She is put under the watchful eye of her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), a woman who thinks that there is a very good chance her house is haunted – objects disappearing and strange noises abounding being her chief evidence of this – and to say that Kylie and Miriam don’t “get on,” would be a vast understatement. Kylie is quick to mock her mother’s belief in the supernatural – after hearing her call-in to a local radio program to discuss her haunting experiences – but when a disembodied hand grabs Kylie’s ankle while she is investigating noises in the basement, she starts to give her mother’s idea a little more credence. Unfortunately, Dennis (Cameron Rhodes), her court-appointed clinical psychologist, accuses Kylie and Miriam of both being delusional.
Lucky for Kylie, she does have one authority figure in her corner – the local police being about as useful as tits on a bull – and that would be Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), the security contractor who keeps track of her movements via her ankle monitor. When she tells Amos of the strange goings-on in their home, he doesn’t scoff at all – in fact his first instinct is to try and contact the spirits – and the two slowly become friends as they work together to solve the mystery. Could the fact that Kylie’s home was once a halfway house for juvenile delinquents be a factor? And what of the girl murdered 14 years ago in the very room Kylie now sleeps in? Could a vengeful spirit be stalking the halls of Kylie’s home, or is something more bizarre and sinister going on? And how does the creepy neighbour, who skins a lot of possums, figure into all of this?
What sets Housebound apart from many of its brethren would be the comedic aspect – noble and paranormal-loving Amos providing many of the laughs – but the humor never gets too broad, always keeping the film and its characters grounded. There are quite a few good horror/comedies out there – from Young Frankenstein to Shaun of the Dead – and though Gerard Johnstone doesn’t go for the big laughs found in those films, he manages to infuse enough humor to elevate Housebound above many of its contemporaries. The only real negative thing I can mention is that though the mystery itself is quite clever – and I don’t want to get into spoilers here – at times, it does stretch credulity a tad. With Housebound, we once again find that New Zealand can produce really solid horror films – especially if they include a dash of dark humor – and thus, I highly recommend fans of the genre checking this one out.