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Housebound | Review

Home is Where the Horror Is: Johnson’s Ozzie Horror Tickles Rather Than Chills

Housebound PosterFans of Peter Jackson’s early works of zany, comedy horror will most likely revel in Gerard Johnstone’s debut, Housebound, as this sometimes feels like a distant cousin to 1992’s Dead Alive. Never very horrific in its haunted house cum hider in the house scenario that recalls Wes Craven’s most enjoyably camp film, The People Under the Stairs (1991), Johnstone gets a lot of mileage out of a pair of entertaining characterizations that tend to override its rather glum and inexpressive visual palette. Those that tend to shirk away from high doses of goofiness in their genre films will certainly find this a bit too saccharine, especially as it never registers any strength as either a horror film or effective comedy in its hybrid scenario.

After running into the law a few too many times, wild child Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is busted robbing an ATM and gets sentenced to eight months of house arrest in her childhood home. Horrified at the prospect considering Kylie despises her daffy mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and dull stepfather Graeme (Ross Harper), Kylie isn’t sure how she’ll survive the sentence. What’s worse is she’s reminded of all the old childhood fears she escaped since her mom still believes the expansive old home is haunted because she hears things creeping and crawling around the house. Demanding that her sentence be relocated elsewhere during her insolent meetings with psychiatrist Dennis (Cameron Rhodes), Kylie begins to see paranormal activity as well. With the help of security tech Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) who conveniently lives nearby and happens to believe Kylie’s batshit crazy story, the two begin to investigate the strange happenings. But is it paranormal or something more terrestrial, if not equally strange and unnerving?

What Housebound really has going for it is a solid premise, an inventive idea that places its protagonist in harm’s way but under believable circumstances—she really can’t leave the house. But things begin to feel bit adolescent, like some kind of family friendly teen thriller out of the 70s, with the unlikely duo of Kylie and Amos guiding us through some rather gory instances. The real star of the film is an excellent Rima Te Wiata as Kylie’s mother, though she’s often playing second fiddle to O’Reilly’s troubled young woman. And then things start getting really illogical when we learn the family home used to be a halfway house and Kylie’s room was the site of the grisly murder of one of its female inhabitants. A creepy neighbor may or may not have had something to do with this, resulting in a strange instance of escalating mayhem.

As the film gets more outlandish, everything about Housebound begins to feel either borrowed or silly and Simon Reara’s bland, cramped and inexpressive cinematography lends the film a rather cheap ambience. There’s certainly an audience out there for this off kilter feature that stays committed to its zaniness, yet it just doesn’t coalesce into the effectively pleasing film that it often promises to be.

★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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