Housebound (2014)

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Despite my wife’s objections, I continue to occasionally add horror films to our watch list in the hopes of finding something that is decent. Housebound made the cut both because it was extremely well reviewed with many good comments made about it on Broken Forum and because it’s a New Zealand film. Let’s face it, when was the last time anyone has watched anything from that country that wasn’t set in Middle-Earth?

Many horror films use a female protagonist because it is well known that once audiences identify with a character, we feel what he or she feels and women are thought to either be easier to scare or to be freer to emote being scared. Housebound doesn’t depart from the standard formula in this regard but as director Gerard Johnstone states, he did try to create a female character that is not easily scared so that when the horror starts, it will have more impact. That’s why the main character here is Kylie, a juvenile criminal who is sentenced to house arrest at her mother’s residence after being arrested for attempting to break open an ATM. She’s beastly to everyone around her and skeptical of her mother’s suspicion that the house is haunted. Even when odd things happen, she’s more inclined to think that there’s an intruder. But then she learns of the morbid events in the house’s past and starts to come around.

This one is billed as a comedy-horror. That’s not an altogether rare combination but what is rare is a film that manages to take more halves seriously. Housebound can’t be said to be a spectacular success in this regard but it does give both its comedy and its horror components a fair shake.  Its best bits may be those which involve both. I loved the scene in which they ratchet the tension with the scene in which they play back a voice recording to search for a ghost’s voice and subvert it. Another example is when Kylie calls in to a radio show about a creepy story in her house and Kylie mocks her mother for it immediately afterwards. Even the way that the film offers up twist after twist on the identity of the villain can be seen as an extended meta-joke. Admittedly towards its climax, it turns into yet another version of the Home Alone scenario which I dislike but at least the number of ways they come up with to harm or stall the villain are worth a few chuckles.

Performances all around are pretty fantastic, especially on the part of Morgana O’Reilly as Kylie. I particularly like how she can be justifiably terrified at times but the film never stoops to painting her as being an inherently weak and vulnerable character. The fact that is set in New Zealand makes it feel a lot fresher than if it were set in yet another nondescript American suburb. Housebound isn’t the kind of film that will break records or push boundaries but it is the perfect example of the small and overlooked film that deserves a wider audience. It’s unfortunate but perhaps the best marker of its success so far is that an American remake of it seems to be in the works.

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