Kylie Bucknell is forced to return to the house she grew up in when the court places her on home detention. Her punishment is made all the more unbearable by the fact she has to live there with her mother Miriam – a good natured blabbermouth who’s convinced that the house is haunted. Kylie dismisses Miriam’s superstitions as nothing more than a distraction from a life occupied by boiled vegetables & small-town gossip. However, when she hears the same unsettling whispers & strange bumps in the night, she begins to wonder whether she’s inherited her overactive imagination, or if the house is in fact possessed by a hostile spirit who’s not particularly thrilled about her return.
I enjoy a good horror comedy as much as the next guy. Films like Shaun Of The Dead (2004), Dead Alive (1992) & Return Of The Living Dead (1985) are among my all time favorite fright flicks, but not because they’re especially hilarious or scary. It’s because they all do what every successful horror comedy should do, straddle the (Very fine) line betwixt horror & comedy – without overdoing either one of them. It’s not as easy as it sounds and there are countless other films that attempted to do the same and failed miserably, the most recent example would be last month’s awful Life After Beth. Writer/director Gerard Johnstone’s latest film, Housebound, succeeds in finding that balance between the two genres but not nearly as well as I’d hoped it would.
Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is a thief that really doesn’t seem to be too successful at her chosen vocation. As the film opens, she’s attempting to steal a ATM machine (with her equally hapless partner), but the combination of a poorly placed blow from a sledgehammer, a homemade grenade & a cement car stop turn the whole thing into a shambles. But rather than lock her up, a judge sentences her to nine months of house arrest in the worst place she could possibly imagine – her mother’s house. Kylie is promptly fitted with an ankle bracelet to monitor her whereabouts and dropped off at her mom’s home. Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), is the type of woman that everyone loves, as long as they don’t have to live with her, she’s quite daft, but affably so. Unfortunately, Kylie can’t stand being near her and does her best to act as petulant & obnoxious as she possibly can. In actuality, she really can’t be blamed for a lot of her actions as Miriam’s home seems to be plucked straight out of the 1940’s in both style & decor. And there’s no sight of any type of modern convenience to be found here either (Miriam’s computer still uses a dial up modem), so Kylie finds herself trapped in a circle of hell that Dante didn’t write about. During the first few days of her confinement, Kylie mocks her mom’s belief that the house is home to a spirit that doesn’t want to leave, but after her ankle gets grabbed by something while nosing around in the basement, Kylie begins to believe that her mom might not be as nutty as she seems to be.
Up until that pivotal moment, Housebound felt pretty stale to me. I did find myself interested in the characters, but the setup felt very familiar & rote. But once that creepy hand grabbed Kylie’s ankle, I got excited over what might happen next. But Johnstone’s script had different ideas as to where the story was gonna go, and while the thrills do indeed arrive, they take their sweet time showing up. Luckily, both O’Reilly and Te Wiata are interesting enough to carry the weight while the script meanders to & fro. They’re ably assisted by Glen Paul Waru as Amos, a parole officer who also happens to moonlight as a paranormal investigator. The combination of the three of them add a good deal of life to moments when nothing much is going on in the story.
The problem I had with Housebound is that it’s far too casual in its method of delivering the laughs and the scares. It meanders when it should be moving. It’s dull when it should be sharp. It cruises when it should be careening, and while it makes up for a lot of this later in the film – it might be too late for a lot of you to care. It’s almost as if the script wasn’t sure of where it ultimately wanted to achieve, so it spends a lot of its first act meandering about, unsuccessfully looking for a hook to hang its hat on. The fact that it eventually ties all of that meandering into something a bit more meaningful and entertaining is testament to Johnstone’s deft manipulation of his thin plot. And although most of the bigger laughs don’t arrive until the final third of the film, there are enough bits of quirkiness strewn about early in the film to elicit polite chuckles from its audience.
Eventually, Housebound sorts itself out into a serviceable mystery comedy, but it’s being promoted as a horror comedy and it really isn’t. As a matter of fact, what the whole thing ends up becoming is an extended episode of Scooby Doo with a dollop of The People Under The Stairs (1991) & Bad Ronald (1974) thrown in for good measure. This isn’t a bad thing, but it isn’t what I was expecting from it. And its way longer than it needs to be, the script doesn’t warrant a film of this length, 15 – 20 minutes of meaningless prattle could be cut from this easily.
But Housebound does deliver some hearty laughs and a few decent jump scares. Actually the scariest bit in the film features the scariest damned teddy bear (A Teddy Ruxpin no less), that I’ve ever seen in a movie before. Maybe it’s because I have a natural aversion to the little furry f*ckers, but I was genuinely uptight once the bear made its appearance. Sadly, the film doesn’t maintain that sense of unease, but it definitely has its moments. Add to that a little bit of gore (Towards the end of the film) and you have a pretty decent little movie. But it isn’t as great as you might’ve heard it to be and there are a lot of missed opportunities here. It’s still well worth a watch though and I can recommend it, albeit with a few reservations.
Housebound – 3 out of 5 shrouds.