22nd Aug2014

Frightfest 2014: ‘Housebound’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Cameron Rhodes, Millen Baird | Written and Directed by Gerard Johnstone


Permanently pissed-off Kylie Bucknell is, after a bungled robbery, forced by the courts to return to her family home when she’s given an eight-month home detention sentence. Her punishment for a botched ATM raid is made all the more intolerable by the fact she has to live with her over-bearing motor-mouth mother Miriam who’s convinced the house is haunted. But after dismissing Miriam’s superstitions, rebellious Kylie too starts hearing unsettling whispers in the dark, creaking floorboards and strange bumps in the night. Has she inherited her mother’s overactive imagination or is there indeed evil afoot between the windows and doors?

New Zealand has one hell of a track record when it comes to horror. From the early work of Peter Jackson and his film Bad Taste and Braindead; to the more recent Frightfest flick The Loved Ones, the country has produced some superb horror flicks over the years – many of which used humour as much as horror to tell their story. And in some respects, Housebound is no different…

Essentially a “hider-in-the-house” story with a twist, Housebound is an impressive debut feature from writer/director Gerard Johnstone, Housebound actually takes some time to get going. This is definitely the type of film that you need to bear with until it really gets to the meat of the story as the pace heats up and the wild and crazy story that this film actually is, comes to the fore. Yet writer/director Johnstone doesn’t rest on his laurels when it comes to his story either – the twists come thick and fast, almost as fast as the dry humour – and by the time the film is over, its story is so far removed from how it began and, if I’m honest, how I expected it to end, that you can’t help but be surprised… and incredibly amused.

Thankfully Johnstone has a central star, in actress Morgana O’Reilly, on which to peg his film, on whom the narrative shift(s) are driven through (making them all the more believeable) – in a role that should be career-defining. O’Reilly’s performance is far-removed from that on Aussie soap Neighbours, here she’s a foul-mouthed, hard-nosed bad-ass whose performance is matched only by that of fellow soap star Rima Te Wiata (Shortland Street, Sons and Daughters), who returns to acting after something of an extended hiatus with a role that is the polar opposite of O’Reilly’s. In fact Te Wiata’s ditzy, somewhat curmudgeonly, mother role recalls that of Elizabeth Moody’s Vera in Braindead.

And that’s the greatest compliment I can give Housebound – it’s  is an almost perfect mix of horror and comedy, switching tone as and when needed – using laughs to break up the films nail-biting tension whilst amping up the creep factor when needed; and Johnstone’s use of traditional jump scares is sublime, somehow managing to make them scary and funny at the same time (almost impossibly so) in a way that I haven’t seen since Peter Jackson’s early work.

A superb debut feature for writer/director Gerard Johnstone, Housebound is yet another in that small pantheon of great horror from down under. A film that is destined to be called a cult classic in years to come.

**** 4/5

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