Housebound

Housebound ★★★★

After a failed robbery, drug addict Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) is put under house arrest at the rambling country residence of her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Miriam believes the house is haunted, a belief Kylie mocks and attributes to dementia. When she has her own supernatural encounters, however, the troubled young woman sets out to investigate the history of the area, aided by Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), her security officer who has more than a passing interest in the paranormal.

Taking a well-worn, often told tale (Outsider investigates spooky goings-on in isolated house), New-Zealand's Housebound, written and directed by Gerard Johnstone, seeks to defy expectation and tell its own, idiosyncratic version. What strikes the viewer immediately is the sense of identity inherent to the film. This is no anonymous ghost story, the characters are fleshed out, the story unpredictable, the scares muted, yet at the same time unsubtle.

A rich vein of comedy permeates throughout this movie, from the gallows humour in its darker moments to the final act, which borders on farce in some of its outlandish revelations. The funnier moments are driven by character, particularly Miriam, who is provincial, slightly eccentric and entirely recognisable as a rounded person - she coos over her daughter's fancy phone, admonishes her for her lack of manner and raises her voice at the prospect of not being able to watch Coronation Street. Her normalcy not only keeps the mood light, but also helps to ground the film during its more far-fetched moments.

Kylie, by contrast, is utterly detestable. Spoilt, egocentric and sullen, she mopes and mocks her way through the first act of the film, her facade only slightly cracking when she begins to suspect there's something to her mother's claims of things going bump in the night.

The horror kicks in fairly promptly, with no room for speculation as to whether Kylie is simply imagining things - one of the entity's opening gambits is menacing her by way of a talking teddy bear. Though by no means terrifying, Housebound offers up sufficient chills to satiate the average horror fan. The house is all long corridors and creaky floorboards, silence seeming to be its natural state - which works well against the sudden noises which are the calling card of its otherworldly occupant.

Although Housebound often threatens to retread old ground - Kylie's supervisors believe her to be delusional, her experiences more to do with her history of drug use than visitors from the other side - the story remains fresh and authentic, due in no small part to the spiky, abrasive nature of Kylie herself, who is certainly no damsel in distress. Her hunches, which lead to the revelations of the film's final act, are well-deduced, and readily accepted by those around her, and we are spared the need for Kylie to tell all in earshot 'I'm not crazy' over and over again, a pitfall which so many similar films fall into.

Housebound, like its protagonist, clearly knows its own mind, It sets out to entertain, to thrill, and to subvert a story told a million times before. It's by no means perfect - the more farcical elements post-twist do threaten to alienate the viewer from the whole experience - but it is a solid, engaging watch, and a worthy addition to the growing canon of intelligent, absorbing horrors emerging from Australasia.