Housebound ★★★

Film #11 of 30 in my March Around The World | 2016 Challenge

Writer-director-editor Gerard Johnstone of New Zealand takes a page from the early Peter Jackson playbook to brings us a debut feature full of mystery, thrills, comedy and horror. It's not quite "Braindead" (1992), but this film could certainly be its cousin, as a judge sentences ATM thief and habitual drug user Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) to eight months under "haunted house" arrest.

Kylie's return to the creepy old home of her youth is anything but joyous. She resents her mum Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and has no use for her do-nothing step-father Graeme (Ross Harper). She has to wear an electronic tracking device that's monitored by a security guard named Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) who lives nearby, and a clinical psychologist called Dennis (Cameron Rhodes) comes by regularly to work with her, but she's stubborn with him, too -- a real bad apple.

Of course, when things start going bump in the night, Kylie changes her tune a bit. She begins to believe they are sharing the house with a ghost, especially after discovering in some old basement files that the structure had once been a half-way house for disturbed youngsters. Kylie learns that a young girl was once murdered in the very room she now sleeps in. It turns out that Amos takes a strong interest in paranormal activities, and he tries to help document the existence of a supernatural presence without much luck.

To add to the tension, there's creepy old man Kraglund (Mick Innes) who lives next door, where he skins small animals and hoards junk of all sorts. We later learn he once had an adopted son named Eugene (Ryan Lampp), a technological savant, who used to turn his scrap into working equipment, but the boy ran off around the time of the murder, never to be seen again.

I found it hard to like Kylie through most of this picture. With a permanent scowl on her face and a huge chip glued to her shoulder, she's just too much of a hard case. I also thought the humor didn't kick in soon enough, making it feel like the film was trying to be serious until the third act, when it suddenly changed gears. Mind you, I'm no horror buff to begin with, so adding a bunch of blood spatter toward the end didn't help the cause either. Not so great, IMHO.

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