(Gerard Johnstone, New Zealand, 2014) 107 minutes


Director: Gerard Johnstone
Producer: Luke Sharpe
Screenplay: Gerard Johnstone
Cinematography: Simon Riera
Editor: Gerard Johnstone
Music: Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper
Morgana O'Reilly (Kylie Bucknell)
Rima Te Wiata (Miriam Bucknell)
Glen-Paul Waru (Amos)
Ross Harper (Graeme)
Cameron Rhodes (Dennis)
Ryan Lampp (Eugene)

Reviews and notes

2014 South by Southwest, Stanley, Dead by Dawn, Chicago Critics, Wellington, Fantasia (Canada), Saskatoon, Melbourne, Lund, Vancouver, Hawaii, Canberra, Abertoir Horror, Leeds, Cork
2015 Imagine (Netherlands), Taipei, Beijing

Funny, suspenseful and freighted with fright bombs, Housebound could easily be the most energising fun you’ve ever had at a New Zealand movie. It’s a sensational debut for writer/director/editor Gerard Johnstone. A beat ahead of the savviest audience, he steers his film through variations of gothic horror and domestic comedy with the assurance of a genre-morphing native. Morgana O’Reilly, her scowling face firing off at least 50 shades of pissed off, is Kylie, the awesomely delinquent heroine. Sentenced by the court to eight months’ home detention, and fitted with an ankle tracker to ensure she stays there, she’s set to make life hell for her mother, Miriam – an epitome of chirpy blather and assaulted propriety in Rima Te Wiata’s hilarious performance. Hearing Miriam on talk radio confiding her anxieties about a supernatural presence in the house – which sure looks like it should have one – seems like the last straw for Kylie. Need we say that events in the attic will prove that Miriam’s not the total dick her daughter says she is?”
- Bill Gosden, NZIFF 2014.

Moving back in with her mother proves a brooding social misfit's nightmare in debuting New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone's droll haunted-house tale.

A xylophone, a cheese grater, a corkscrew and a laundry basket are among unconventional weapons employed in the vigorous climactic mayhem of Housebound, an oddball haunted-house thriller that balances tongue-in-cheek playfulness with more serious dramatic urgency. Gerard Johnstone, a first-time writer-director from New Zealand, demonstrates a sly command of deadpan humor along with an assured grasp of seasoned horror tropes. And while the film is a slow-starter, it becomes increasingly atmospheric as it goes on, stirring in unlikely new twists and then grounding them in bizarre but persuasive plot logic.

While the film may not rate highly on the scare-meter, genre fans should appreciate its distinctive Kiwi flavor and its mischievous take on well-trodden territory, not to mention the accelerating pull of its central mystery.

Morgana O'Reilly plays the inevitable young woman in peril, Kylie, with a bad attitude, a permanent sneer and an innate resourcefulness that we first witness as she's robbing an ATM with a sledgehammer. Given that multiple previous rehab stints have failed to curb her substance abuse and anger management issues, Kylie is sentenced to the "stability" of eight months of house arrest with her mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and stepfather Graeme (Ross Harper) in her creepy childhood home.

Miriam's inane chatter and the patronizing guidance of Kylie's court-ordered psychiatrist Dennis (Cameron Rhodes) are punishment enough. But she soon finds she has bigger headaches to manage. Despite dismissing her superstitious mother's mutterings about a ghost, she stumbles upon evidence that the house had previous occupants, some of whom may not have entirely left the premises. There's also an unsavory neighbor (Mick Innes) with his share of secrets and a feral electronics wizard (Ryan Lampp) lurking in the shadows.

The authorities attribute Kylie's anxieties to drinking and addiction, and she occasionally has trouble separating reality from imagination herself. But luckily for her, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a guard from the local security firm monitoring her detention, turns out to be a dabbler in paranormal investigation.

O'Reilly (who looks uncannily like a younger Idina Menzel) makes an agreeably scrappy bad-girl heroine. The classic surly misfit subjected to inept social-services interventions is a familiar type, but Johnstone's script adds enough fresh kinks to keep Kylie interesting. Te Wiata gets low-key comedic mileage out of daffy mum, whose dithering uselessness doesn't exclude a sweet maternal side, while Innes makes Amos just sharp enough to be of help, without encroaching on Kylie's centrality as the stakes get higher. Rhodes brings a tasty hint of archness to the stock figure of the shrink who may be more unhinged than his patient.

The writer-director shows skill at cranking up the suspense by degrees, fueling a judiciously understated strain of ludicrousness en route to some amusing final-act carnage. Cinematographer Simon Riera makes a sinister environment of the murky interiors, while composer Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper's old-school symphonic score drives along the action.
- David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter, 3 August 2014.

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