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Housebound is a New Zealand horror/comedy/mystery that has gotten a lot of high praise at festivals, even a passionate rave from Peter Jackson himself. Personally I think it’s become tradition to over-hype things seen at film festivals and while Housebound is enjoyable, especially in it’s last act, I really wasn’t knocked-out by it, as those who saw it at the South By South-West film festival seem to have been.
The story finds failed ATM thief with a chip on her shoulder, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) sent back to her childhood home for an 8 month sentence of house arrest and therapy. Kylie finds out rather quickly that her mother (Rima Te Wiata) thinks the house is haunted and after a few things go bump in the night, the skeptical Kylie begins to agree with her. Kylie decides to get to the bottom of things with the help of her supervising security officer, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who is also a paranormal investigator. Together they find out that the house used to be a former insane asylum and that a young girl was murdered there. Is it her spirit that lurks in the shadows or the killer who was never caught?
Written and directed by Gerard Johnstone, there is a lot to like about this off-beat flick though it’s not quite the masterpiece it’s been made out to be. On the downside it’s not nearly as scary as it’s reputation suggests, thought there are some spooky bits, nor is it as funny. It also takes a while to really get going and deliver the goods. It was never boring but, there are scenes of exposition that have you checking your watch. The dialogue is well-written but, there’s only so much of Kylie being mean and resentful to her mother and step-father that we need to see to get the point that she’s anti-social and unappreciative. Another minor point that bugged me was Amos deactivating/ignoring her ankle monitor so she can go about investigating the neighboring homes. What was the point of having the character on house arrest if she can be conveniently freed by her security officer turned partner to roam about? Once the investigation goes full swing then the film gets moving and we are treated to some fun bits and a third act that really delivers as Kylie’s detective work rattles the right, or wrong depending on your point of view, cage. There is some fun off-beat humor, though not all of it works and some surprisingly bloody moments considering the lighter tone of a lot of it. The film looks great. Johnstone has a nice visual style that cinematographer Simon Riera captures nicely and there is an effective score by Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper.
The cast also go a long way to making this fun, too. Morgana O’Reilly is a firecracker and she is really good as the sarcastic and anti-social Kylie and the actress makes her transformation into a more caring person work very well. Equally effective is Rima Te Wiata as her constantly blabbering mother. She may sound like she’s uttering nonsense but, if you listen carefully there is a deft logic at work and she knows more than she appears to. Glen-Paul Waru is fun as Amos who is in charge of monitoring Kylie’s ankle bracelet and becomes her partner in ghost hunting/mystery solving. He makes an engaging character. Rounding out is Ross Harper as Kylie’s step-father Graeme who seems to just want to be left to himself and Cameron Rhodes as Kylie’s creepy putz of a counselor. A very good cast.
So, I did like this movie but, didn’t fall head over heels in love like many seem to. It was fun and had some really strong performances/characterizations but, took a long time to get going and wasn’t as scary or funny as it could have been. I still certainly recommend it to those interested to take a look but, be wary of the high praise coming out of film festivals and directors looking to give their fellow Kiwis a boost. An entertaining flick but, not something that had my inner fan-boy in an uproar.
3 ankle monitors