MOVIE REVIEW: HOUSEBOUND / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GERARD JOHNSTONE / SCREENPLAY: GERARD JOHNSTONE / STARRING: MORGANA O'REILLY, RIMA TE WIATA, GLEN-PAUL WARU / RELEASE DATE: TBC
When one thinks of New Zealand’s contribution to horror cinema, the mind immediately turns to those brief but halcyon days when young Pete Jackson reigned in blood. Abdicating from the throne of gore, he stayed in Wellington, made his best film to date, Heavenly Creatures (1995), and got into bed with Hollywood. There have been other horror movies and directors, of course, but it is very slim pickings and nothing to compare to Jacko’s splatstick offerings. It leaves that director looking distinctly like a miracle child and a genuine one-off.
While caution must be heeded – for we live in times where hyperbole is cheap and garlands of critical praise can potentially do more harm than good to a film – Housebound is arguably the very best horror movie produced in the country since Braindead in 1992. Director and writer Gerard Johnstone’s deft handling of a traditional haunted house tale is anchored by an unlikely figure, one that rarely occupies movies of this ilk, anyway – a stroppy teenage petty crim, who is less than impressed with all things that go bump in the night.
Imagine a classic ghost story interrupted by a character parachuted in from a Ken Loach or 1990s Mike Leigh drama. Kylie Bucknell (a fabulous performance by Morgana O’Reilly) dresses like a Lisbeth Salander fangirl, swears like a sailor, can barely tolerate her mum and stepdad and hates authority figures with a passion. Placed under house arrest and electronically tagged after her latest escapade – attempting to rob an ATM – she is forced to stay put for eight months. The creepy old house the mum lives in is believed to be haunted, something Kylie scoffs at, repeatedly. That is, until she’s slowly drawn into a decades-old murder mystery.
Housebound, as with all the best horror-comedies, finds a perfect balance between the light and the dark. It’s a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Many have tried and many have failed. Like Buddy Giovinazzo’s criminally unreleased A Night of Nightmares and Ti West’s The Innkeepers, Johnstone's film offers characters to give a damn about and a marvellous cast to fill the roles.
Kylie might be a hard nut to crack, but as the story progresses, she finds purpose away from her dosser lifestyle and there is the prospect of a thawing in her relationship with the mother. Freaky, thrilling and with a natural humour and ear for dialogue that really could have been written to accommodate a British social realist drama, where bickering, foul language and insults are batted back and forth, Housebound is a cult classic in the making.
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10