directed by Gerard Johnstone
(Semi-Professional Pictures, 2014)

After failing to rob a cash machine, a young woman is returned to her estranged mother and father for custody. After an uncomfortable period of readjustment, Kylie notices that her parents' home appears to be possessed by a supernatural presence. There are the usual haunted-house tropes with bumps in the night and objects moving or disappearing, and the sound of footsteps and mysterious shadows. The occurrences grow more oppressive as it becomes clear that something -- or someone -- seems to be observing Kylie's every move.

Later, it becomes clear that it's less paranormal and more about very dark secrets.

Housebound is a well-blended mix of horror, comedy, action, drama and crime thriller. Such a heady concoction could have made for a potentially awful film but Housebound turns out to be quite simply brilliant and original, all at once, with a twist ending that admittedly is difficult to see coming.

Writer and first-time director Gerard Johnstone (What We Do in the Shadows) has crafted another wonderful film that's a parody of horror films while still being a tense thriller. Amidst the scares is a nifty murder mystery that offers up plenty of red herrings. The plot, full of twists and turns, unfolds mostly within the confines of Kylie's family home. The first half of the movie definitely keeps the viewer guessing. Neither is the ending disappointing, as it explains the core of what precedes it quite well. The movie is deliberately paced, definitely a slow burner, but a very effective one. There's a solid sense of atmosphere as the film unfolds. There is not a wasted moment, each one put to use turning up the screws on the suspension.

At its heart, Housebound is about lonely, self-isolated people trying to reach across a chasm. Kylie's circumstances are juxtaposed with the mysterious element in her parents' home. It's a crucial overlap that's integral to the plot, because it's about the bonds between each character, and it is in those bonds, parental and otherwise, that the film weaves its most believably, psychologically dense, threads.

Johnstone's close attention to characters and their relationships result in some truly great performances to blend in with this darkly comic, wacky and weird horror movie. Morgana O'Reilly as Kylie turns in a terrific performance. Rima Te Wiata as the mother is perfect, tapping into the always rich vein of emotionally complex characters and their equally complex lives.

Housebound is not a movie that indulges in cheap jump scares, relying more on perception to fuel the unease. It is also a film that is not afraid to take risks. It's all a matter of playing with reality, or, in this case, with the hidden world within a house.

review by
Mary Harvey

21 October 2017

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