|I've seen worse family photos|
Though it's a feature of nearly every horror film out there, very few entries into the genre manage to balance comedy with genuine scares in a way that neither steps on the other's toes. In Gerard Johnstone’s debut feature Housebound, while the humour is certainly at the forefront of the film, the scares and the seemingly endless twists remain extremely effective and uncompromising.After a botched ATM robbery, Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is sentenced to house arrest, complete with electronic ankle bracelet to prevent her straying, at her childhood home with her mother (Rima Te Waita) and stepfather (Ross Harper). Before long, the brooding miscreant is plagued by strange, seemingly supernatural happenings on the property, leading to the revelation that her mother has long suspected that the house is haunted. What follows is a series of twists and turns as Kylie, her mother, and parole officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) attempt to unravel the truth.
The titular house is as much a character in Housebound as any of the people that inhabit and explore it. Simultaneously sprawling and confining, it evokes Wes Craven's The People Under The Stairs as it serves to completely disorient the viewer with its hidden rooms and passageways so that, in the third act, you never really know where the characters actually are in the labyrinthine house. It works on multiple levels as well, as it starts off displaying a few cluttered rooms to bring out Kylie's feeling of confinement to the small space, and then more of the layout is revealed to show Kylie's gradual understanding of the house's history and the horrific events that occurred there.
Though I have a few issues with the characters — the mother and Amos seem to vacillate between true believers in the paranormal and complete skeptics every other scene — Johnstone does a great job of keeping you guessing throughout the 100-minute running time with enough twists that Housebound seems a lot longer than it is (in a good way). As you can probably tell, I watch a lot of horror movies and movies in general, so there’s not much I haven't seen, but I can honestly say that I never knew what was coming next in this movie. By the time the final payoff comes (and boy does it pay off), you’re almost exhausted from the journey there.
A New Zealand horror-comedy may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you're looking for something to watch that’s just challenging enough while remaining light and fun, but Housebound definitely fits the bill. A welcome surprise and a great way to open After Dark 2014, and Gerard Johnstone is definitely a filmmaker to keep your eye on.