There’s an excellent feeling when you watch a film that you just know will go down as a horror classic. The moment the film is over, the first thing on your mind, is to call every friend you have to tell them what you just experienced and do your best to spread the love for the film. It rarely happens, and for every film like that, there is typically around 12 other ones that don’t give you a feeling like that whatsoever. Thankfully though, Gerard Johnstone’s HOUSEBOUND is not only a very entertaining debut feature, but IS one of those films that gives you such a great ride, that immediately upon finishing the film, it’ll be an instant addition to your favorite films list and an immediate classic.
Taking the story of Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), a trouble young woman in trouble with the law following an ATM robbery gone wrong, Johnstone gives his audience a glimpse of what kind of film they’re in for, right from the beginning. The opening sequence in which Kylie and her partner attempt to break into an ATM and while doing so, the partner accidentally knocks himself out, and Kylie is busted, really showcases the film’s tone right away, with the combination of something very serious mixed with a dry sense of humor and finding something funny in situations that wouldn’t typically be funny.
Kylie is sentenced to not go to jail or to a special recovery residence, but a punishment much less appealing to her: being on house arrest at her childhood home, with her mom and step-father. An ankle monitor is placed on her by Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a very serious yet somewhat bumbling character that adds yet another likable character to a film already inhabited by its share (Rima Te Wiata as Kylie’s estranged mother is also great). Before even getting into the meat of the story, HOUSEBOUND does an excellent job of allowing you to get to know the characters it’s presenting to you, which makes any predicaments they get themselves into that much more scary/funny.
When Kylie overhears her mother phoning into a paranormal radio show, saying that they’re house is haunted, she’s just adds that as one more reason to not want to be around her already somewhat estranged and fractured family, but when she begins to hear and witness things that can’t be explained, she begins to sing a different tune. The film then leads you on one hell of a mystery, giving you twist after twist, until the very end, with a gory and devilishly impressive finale.
Where HOUSEBOUND succeeds so well, is in its ability to put certain thoughts into your head, making you get on board with it being on kind of film, before pulling the rug out from under you. With its seamless ability to make you terrified one moment and laugh your ass off the next, it leads you to so many emotions, and every time Kylie, her mother and Amos all trying to work together to solve the mystery of what’s going on, you begin to figure out the puzzle and just when you think you know what’s going, the film flaunts the fact that you don’t. It’s that continual changing of tones and the combination of horror and comedy flowing through those changes that recalls the fun of the earlier films of another Kiwi, Peter Jackson.
There have been plenty of horror films that have worked well, scaring the hell of their audiences, but the way HOUSEBOUND does it right after making your sides hurt from laughter, gives it an extra level of emotional range, and it works so well for the film. It also helps that the film has such strong performances by O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Glen-Paul Waru, the trio really pushes the film into having the ability to provide likable and relatable characters to take the journey with. We’ve all wanted to be rebellious and get away from our parents at some point, but O’Reilly gives Kylie a sense of realism that is missing from a lot of genre films, she’s absolutely wonderful in the film, giving viewers a not just a badass female heroine, but more than that, just a tough as nails character in general. There’s no final girl-approach to Kylie, O’Reilly plays the role the same way it would be played had it been written as male character, which is awesome, as it’s not gender-defined, instead the focus is on just giving a hell of performance, and she really succeeds at that.
If the film is any indication of the writing/directing that Johnstone is capable of and the acting that O’Reilly is capable of, then consider me a fan, because HOUSEBOUND is one of the most impressive genre films in decades and worthy of going down as a genre classic.