While I don’t often turn to New Zealand when looking for the next great horror comedy, maybe I should start, because Houseound is a bloody bit of raucous fun. Written and directed by newcomer Gerard Johnstone, this entertaining haunted-house-romp strikes a fair balance between comedic playfulness and gory horror that’s well suited for thrill-seekers and laugh-lovers alike. Some might assume being held under house arrest with your parents is the scariest scenario as far as home-centric horror is concerned, but Johnstone assures us that much more haunting events exist. And no, I’m not talking about throwing more relatives into the mix, either.
Morgana O’Reilly plays Kylie Bucknell, a perpetual troublemaker sentenced to a prolonged home dentition fate after botching an ATM robbery. Immediately greeted by her talkative mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), a flood of teenage angst washes over Kylie as she copes with her new living situation through shameful ignorance. To make matters worse, Miriam is convinced that a supernatural force is connected to the house. Kylie sensibly shrugs off such talk until a freak occurrence proves there may be some truth to her mother’s fears, starting a paranormal investigation with the help of a local-security-guard-turned-Ghostbuster named Amos (Glen-Paul Waru). What unfolds is a kooky specter hunt within the walls of Kylie’s childhood home, revealing memories that she’d repressed for years with good reason.
While Johnstone’s story sounds like common genre fare, it’s elevated by a lovably vivacious personality that’s solidified by every punchy joke and jolting scare. Housebound is the kind of horror movie that establishes normalcy very early on, falsely lulling viewers into expectations of typical jumps and bumps, but a fresh and vibrant voice proves quite the opposite. Between Amos’ overly-serious beliefs in ghostly forms and Kylie’s sassy demeanor, you’ll find more laughs than most mainstream comedies muster nowadays, and it perfectly balances out scares that otherwise might seem mundane given a dreadfully serious tone. Johnstone’s command of atmosphere plays gracefully into the enjoyment of Housebound, showing an equal appreciation of both well-crafted jokes and proper ghostly material.
Performances play a large role in achieving such a tone as well, with O’Reilly, Wiata and Waru charming their way throughout this vicious Scooby Doo mystery. Given the mother/daughter dynamic that O’Reilly and Wiata must strike, a chemistry is developed where both characters never flinch based on their drastically different personalities. Kylie has never grown up from being the snarky little brat who rebelled against her loving, compassionate and sometimes annoying mother, and those feelings still charge every moment of her adulthood. Drinking beer and eating entire dinners for lunch, O’Reilly provides a leading lady in Kylie that’s both inappropriate and likable, and is the perfect counterbalance for Miriam’s unnecessary comments once they form a ghost busting team.
Even when danger looms, Miriam still complains about her knees or has a bit of Martha-Stewart-advice waiting to break the tension, which always draws a rousing reaction from Kylie. Finish the family sitcom comedy off with Waru’s bumbling detective work, and you’ve got three extremely jovial characters who Johnstone uses to create his enjoyable blend of ghastly comedy.
Oh, but don’t you worry horror fans, Housebound still brings a wild, twisted finale that paints the walls of this cozy house blood red. As the red herrings reveal themselves and Kylie’s sleuthing leads to unlikely revelations, Johnstone’s film switches from a light-hearted spooker to an intensified survival story that plays upon our preconceived notions of the film’s title. Full of surprises, Kylie quickly switches from bitchy heroine to killer survivor girl ready to challenge whatever wicked forces are at work. The gore is raw and killings gleefully brutal, bringing enough doses of carnage to appease gorehounds while still maintaining a sly cheekiness that somehow makes all the violence sadistically fun. That’s probably thanks to the inclusion of Miriam’s constant blubbering, as the thought of picturing my own chatty mum surviving a horror movie is pretty comical in its own right.
Housebound is a paranormal-home-invasion hybrid that delivers a superb blend of thrills and laughs without sacrificing either audience demographic. Kudos to Gerard Johnstone on such an achievement, because I’ve sat through far too many scare-less and unfunny horror comedies in my day, yet everything about Housebound has me giddy with joy. It’s like if The Conjuring got a comedic makeover, and instead of clenching onto the demon plot for dear live, it deviated into a goofy human mystery leaving audiences happily screaming bloody murder.
Yeah, I’m sticking with that.