Celluloid Screams 2014: Housebound Review.
From writer and director Richard Johnstone comes the spine-tingling horror/comedy Housebound. This frightening feature from New Zealand has just the right balance of shocks and scares and laugh out loud dark humour that it’s proved to be one of the most entertaining horror films of 2014. If movies such as An American Werewolf in London and Inbred appeal to your terrifying tastes then Housebound is the film that wholeheartedly compliments them in tone just with a supernatural twist. It features gripping storytelling; layered and well developed characters and an abundance of suspense to keep the audience compelled. Housebound is a film that’s not purely exclusive to just genre fans as it displays enough commercial appeal to widen out to a broader audience. Who doesn’t love a bit of ghosts and blood?!
Twenty-something tearaway Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest following an illegal botched job gone wrong. Returning under the guidance of her domineering mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and timid Step-Father Graeme (Ross Harper), Kylie is not pleased in the slightest about the re-location to her former family home. Kylie displays an aversion toward the house she grew up in but dismisses her mother’s claims of some sort of paranormal activity going on. It’s not until Kylie experiences some strange occurrences herself that she begins to realize her mother’s claims may not be as crazy as she first imagined.
Housebound’s strongest point is the dynamic between Kylie and Miriam. A strained relationship between the pair is portrayed that comes across as incredibly naturalistic, which is down to the chemistry between the two actresses. The supernatural element is in place as a mask that represents the anxieties of mother and daughter reconnecting after a turbulent relationship and years of distance. Immediately it’s believable that these two have experienced a long and difficult history when we first meet them, a credit to Johnstone’s well-crafted and in-depth script.
Kylie is an interesting leading horror female. She’s obnoxious yet endearing which makes us root for her as she displays a strong sense of determination in solving the problems she’s faced with and isn’t afraid to break the rules a little bit. It’s a bit risky having such a sarcastic, moody character as the lead however Johnstone’s writing and Morgana O’Reilly’s performance manages to keep us engaged with her and keep firmly on her side when she’s faced with danger. In comparison to Excision (2012), a film that contains a highly unlikeable main character with no redeeming features, Housebound gets it right in terms of depicting Kylie as a frustrated young woman who acts out against those who are trying to help her but underneath she has several likeable qualities, making her an ambitious woman of horror in terms of her construction.
Housebound is a modern-day paranoid horror that cleverly keeps us guessing until the very end with its brilliant blend of supernatural scares and charming comedy. Is the house inhabited by a spooky presence or is it all a reflection of Kylie’s overactive imagination or is she acting out of boredom due to being on house lock-up, or possibly something else entirely? There are other interesting elements at work such as the temperamental television and computer, cutting them off from technology and acting as a metaphor for this family to sit down, communicate and address their problems.
The setting gives off plenty of creepy vibes with the old, creaky, isolated house that provides an uneasy feeling. Jump scares are carried out effectively and take us by surprise in comparison to the predictability of a lot of Hollywood haunting films. Supporting characters such as Miriam bring light relief to the tense moments. Glen-Paul Waru also adds to the light-heartedness as the loyal friend Amos, a quirky ‘paranormal expert’ who is incredibly well-meaning in aiding Kylie and Miriam. Cameron Rhodes is the bumbling psychologist who Kylie treats as more of a hindrance than a help, which again supplies the film with more intense antagonism as Kylie struggles to trust anyone.
Housebound is a must-see, it’s a genre-bending balance of scares and laughs that contains twists and turns and plenty of mystery making it an especially worthwhile watch. Housebound will be screening at the Abertoir Horror Festival on Thursday 13th November at 1pm. Passes are £58 to see a selection of diverse films like Housebound plus talks, a theatre performance, a train ride and an 80’s disco. Abertoir 2014 will be discussed in more depth in the upcoming seventh episode of the Ghostface Girls podcast.
Hayley Alice Roberts.