Published on September 25th, 2014 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Saskatoon Fantastic Film Festival brings a Kiwi comedy/horror haunted house film that is one of the best dang little movies we’ve seen this year.
One of the worst haunted house movie tropes is the idea that a family doesn’t run screaming from a house the moment it growls at them in a demon voice to ‘get out’ and blood starts seeping from the walls. I’m surprised it took so long for someone to address this cliché, but the New Zealand-made horror/comedy Housebound does just that.
Kylie Bucknell is a criminal on the rise, caught ripping off an ATM and sentenced to live at her mom’s place under house arrest with one of those ankle bracelets that alerts the police if you leave the property. It’s a clever little device to tie her not only to a house that may be haunted, but also to the family that she’s tried to get away from, specifically her yappy mother Miriam. Kylie is embarrassed by her mother and the fact that mom thinks the house is rife with ghosts, but when weird things start happening, it gets harder for her to keep her hard exterior and shrug things off. With the help of a security guard that’s a bit obsessed with ghost hunting, Kylie tries to get to the bottom of things.
Before I saw the movie, I was told it could be compared to old Peter Jackson films, which is true. While I’d say it’s more The Frighteners than Dead Alive or Bad Taste, though it certainly shares attributes from all three. The film could also be captured well in describing it as a great Scooby-Doo mystery; it deftly rides the line between funny and scary. Scares and comedy always work well together, like a see saw, and Housebound takes the time to pay attention to both. The tense moments are ratcheted up with atmosphere and story twists, and the family dynamic and more realistic attitudes about ghosts provide a lot of laughs. There are also a couple of really great gags, especially one involving peeing that mixes suspense and comedy.
It’s hard to say too much without giving away some of the twists and turns, but suffice it to say that they are there. These plot machinations give Kylie a great character arc that goes from spoiled brat to unlikely hero. Cast members Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, and Glen-Paul Waru do an especially good job of inhabiting their characters. Along with the script, the actors bring depth to the story, with themes of arrested development, responsibility, and dysfunction in family as subtext.
The only question I did have was — does the movie violate its own rules? While investigating, Kylie does seem to venture beyond her home while wearing her ankle bracelet. That said, I’d need to see it again to be sure — it’s possible that I missed something (comments are welcome if you have an answer for me). And she does have the security guard in tow, so it’s possible he could have been deactivating the anklet. It’s also possible that the places she goes to are still within range of the device (though that seems less likely as we see the radius at the end of her front walk). Anyway, in a movie that’s so well written, I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume that I must have missed something.
And if it is a mistake, it doesn’t tank the film. First time writer/director Gerald Johnstone came from the television sitcom world, which helps him deliver punchy jokes and flesh out strong character moments. If Housebound is any indication, Johnstone has a brilliant career ahead of him.