Housebound is a fresh and entertaining haunted house movie that taps into the fear of a generation of twenty-somethings afraid of moving back home with their parents.
When young recidivist Kylie Bucknell botches an attempt to rob an ATM the court sentences her to a cruel and unusual punishment: 8 months house arrest with her estranged and eccentric mother Miriam. Upon returning to her childhood home, Kylie discovers Miriam is convinced a restless spirit occupies the eerie fixer upper. Teaming up with her open-minded parole officer, Kylie tries to uncover the truth behind her mother’s delusions. Angry, annoyed and entirely skeptical of the supernatural, the irate daughter quickly loses her patience when an onset of paranormal activity threatens to disrupt her boring rehabilitation.
Housebound is absolutely fantastic. I cannot recommend this movie enough for fans of creepy, kooky genre films. If you love movies that mix a little funny with the frightening (Shaun of the Dead, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil, The Frighteners) thenHousebound is right up your alley. Not only is it a fun and original take on ghost stories but also, cinematically, an exciting debut of an inspired new talent. The use of music, lighting, camera movement, performance and pacing demonstrates an exceptional command of technique. I was reminded of Sam Rami’s skill when he made Drag Me to Hell 30 years after Evil Dead.
First-time filmmaker Gerard Johnstone not only wrote, directed and edited this atmospheric comedy on a limited budget but he displays an expert command for pacing, mood, and humor.
Johnstone is an obvious horror fan who can direct a scene on par with the likes of Rami, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro and Edgar Wright. In fact, without revealing too much, Johnstone goes farther, creatively, than these masters with his phantasmagorical film. Johnstone script is so smart and his style so confident that while he seemingly borrows from these accomplished veterans he often uses genre tropes as misdirection for startling or comedic payoffs. By playing on the audience’s familiarity with horror clichés (dread inducing musical cue, abstract camera angles), he sets up expectations before pulling the rug out from under. This isn’t just a fan imitating his artist influences, but an inspired new talent crafting something new.
What I love most about Housebound is that it’s a rare work from a filmmaker with a strong understanding of visual comedy. Johnstone uses all the tools of cinema—sight and sound—to craft either a joke or a scare. The first minute of the film demonstrates this by furiously grabbing your attention with a frenetic and intense robbery scene. Quick cuts, fast actions, dramatic music and extreme angles set a tone before the movie immediately U-turns into absurdity. This unexpected turn leads to a wonderful bit of visual humor: after a failing to rob an ATM in a spectacular fashion a quiet wide shot reveals Kylie dragging her incapacitated accomplice across the frame. It’s a silly image, at odds with the previously established tone, that feels right at home within a Monty Python sketch. This setup and reversal of expectation had me spitting up my drinking with laughter before the title even appeared but foreshadowed the ebb and flow of the ride that isHousebound.
While I’m quick to commend Gerard Johnstone’s talents a large part of what makes this film work is its cast, the characters they play and the chemistry between them. Morgana O’Reilly is terrific as the perpetually scowling Kylie, a protagonist who pushed my sympathies to their limits, but her annoyance and frustrated with the poltergeist makes for much of the movie’s humor. Her reactions to creepy toys and creaking doors are hysterical when compared to the how movie characters typically react to the supernatural. (See, The Conjuring). Likewise, Rima Te Wiata as Kylie’s sweet, blabbermouth of a mother is charming as the good-natured matriarch who is unable to connect or help her troubled daughter. Finally, Glen-Paul Waru as Amos, the parole officer and part time ghost-hunter steals the movie as Kylie’s unlikely partner. The best scenes in the movie are usually when these three characters interact with one another. Their characters are so well defined and the performers all have such terrific chemistry that it’s just a joy to watch them bounce off one another.
Having a haunted house as the catalyst for the reconciliation between a mother and daughter is a brilliant idea at the heart of Housebound. Ghost stories, at their core, are about the how the past won’t go away. You can never really close the door on the past because those ghosts will continue to creep into the present. Housebound uses literal and figurative ghosts to tell a tale that is sometimes scary, sometimes funny but thoroughly smart and entertaining.
Realization: Housebound demands at least two viewings. Much like Ed revealing the plot at the beginning of Shaun of the Dead, 10 minutes into the opening of Housebound there is an ingenious (but easy to overlook) line of dialogue that illuminates the theme of the entire film.