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Housebound review
A twenty-something woman finds herself under house arrest in her childhood home, which now appears to be haunted.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Gerard Johnstone

Starring: Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper

Housebound poster

Before they can open up the shadowy corners and hallowed foundations of their spooky settings, every haunted house movie must first contend with the same logistical problem, namely, how to contrive to ensure its protagonists stay put within the troubled walls of their haunted homes, rather than nipping off to the relative safety of the nearest Travelodge? The Overlook was snowed in, poor Carol Ann was literally trapped in the telly in Poltergeist, and, correspondingly, in New Zealand horror Housebound we have a similarly convincing premise: ne'er do well lead Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly - full of pout, and even fuller of attitude) is placed under eight month house arrest following her bumbling attempt at doing over a cash machine. If Kylie ventures further than the front yard, then eager neighbourhood cop Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) is alerted, and it's Cell Block H for her. Kylie is in her mid-twenties, so moving back in with her mum (who she refers to, in the film's characteristically blunt vernacular, as "a fucking idiot") isn't the most appealing of prospects, but, even worse than having to watch Coronation Street every Tuesday and Thursday are the strange happenings within Kylie's childhood abode: the weird noises, the electricity short outs… the hand that grabs her from the basement!

Housebound review

Everything about Housebound's efficient, slick suspense and quirky characterisation feels so fresh and urgent, and makes it easy to see why it was such a festival favourite. This is horror that both thrills and chills, offering crowd pleasing scares as Kylie negotiates the strange environs and even weirder backstory of the house, but also an off kilter, Antipodean whimsy to the proceedings as well. These shifts in texture and tone work well on the smaller screen too: this is a very funny horror film (the humour reminded me of Summer Heights High's rough wit - high praise). Kylie's poor old mum (telly veteran Rima Te Wiata) is a scream, weeping when she's denied her soap fix and clumsily rear-ending the cop car that delivers Kylie ("there's more damage to mine than there is to yours…"). The relationship between the two women gives Housebound its comedic edge - despite being a twenty-something woman, Kylie reverts to teenage sulks and adolescent outbursts at home - but also accords Housebound its heart.

Housebound review

Housebound must retrieve every cliché from the haunted attic, but, here's the crucial difference between this film and, say, the Poltergeist remake: Housebound dusts these tropes off and presents them as brand shining new; lingering shots of bathroom mirrors where we expect ghouls to pop up remain empty, radio static that could whisper supernatural secrets ultimately don't…. At the start of the movie, a television pop psychologist talks about confirmation bias, the idea that we (and perhaps disturbed Kylie) see what we expect to, and the film certainly plays with our low-expectations of recent horror, but only in order to confound them; and consequently we're coloured intrigued as to the true (super?) nature of proceedings. One particularly neat scene sees Kylie on the loo, as she, um, micturates, and her tension at the random muffled whispers and bangs of the house is communicated by the sound of her urine hitting the bowl; halting, then releasing, then halting again; creating suspense in a manner that is both amusing and inspired.

Housebound review

Such a scene as the one above is characteristic of this off-kilter and sensational film. Usually, the caveat for a movie of such idiosyncrasy would begin, "It’s not for everyone, but…" However, it is impossible to imagine anyone not getting something from this gem (I saw an online screener, but can't wait to buy the blu-ray. Several in fact, one for all of my most favourite people). Often hilarious, frequently proper scary, and tense and suspenseful throughout, like Kylie locked in to the environs of her haunted house, we too are gripped by the tense excitements of Housebound, a film that's right up your street.

Housebound is on UK/ROI VOD from October 2nd.