As a debut feature from writer and director Gerard Johnstone, Housebound is extremely accomplished. He superbly balances what could be a delicate subject matter alluding to child abuse with humour that is both darkly dry of wit and exuberantly slapstick. That Johnstone blends this with characters that are infectious, yet on the whole unlikeable, demonstrates composed filmmaking that belies his experience.
O’Reilly is superb as the sulky, frustratingly awkward Kylie who spends much of the early part of the film moping around with a “the-world-hates-me” chip on her shoulder. The moments she shares with her chatterbox mother Miriam (Te Wiata), who believes the house to be haunted, are a wonderful mix of witty observation and reluctant affection. Private security guard Amos (Waru), who sidelines in amateur ghosthunting and sinister social worker Dennis (Rhodes) all contribute to what is an impressively assembled ensemble.
What raises Housebound above the multitude of haunted house shockers and tiresome comedy horrors that seem to populate the genre is the convoluted plotting that Johnstone retains under control for the film’s duration. Each time you think you have a handle on where the story is taking you, another unexpected twist throws you right back to the start. The dexterity with which Johnstone handles his screenplay is nothing short of brilliant and it is no surprise Hollywood is already planning a remake. If anything, though, the low-budget nature of the film adds to the whole aesthetic, bringing a necessary claustrophobia to proceedings that reflects Kylie’s incarceration. There are no unnecessary flourishes or repetitive genre clichés so familiar in horror films; just a great story with great performances.
Housebound is therefore a cinematic rarity; a film full of respectful nods and references that will delight genre fans and one that also succeeds in bridging the gap to the mainstream. Johnstone is a director who clearly knows what he’s doing and his debut is one to watch before Hollywood get their overactive polishing paws on it.
INFO: HOUSEBOUND / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: GERARD JOHNSTONE / STARRING: MORGANA O’REILLY, RIM ATE WIATA, GLEN-PAUL WARU, ROSS HARPER / RELEASE DATE: JULY 20TH