The recent horror release M3GAN has brought the name Gerard Johnstone onto people’s radar thanks to the largely positive reviews, and the movie becoming well known across social media. However, this is not the first time that the New Zealand writer/director has tackled horror. His first movie, Housebound, showed audiences that he was adept at the genre, as well as balancing comedy with it, and was part of the reason why producer James Wan approached him for M3GAN. Finally, after almost a decade, it’s available here in the UK.
The film stars Morgana O’Reilly as Kylie, a young woman with a history of drug problems, who has a massive chip on her shoulder towards the world. When she gets arrested after trying to steal from an ATM, she’s sentenced to spending eight months under house arrest, in her mother’s home. Her mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) is almost the polar opposite of her; always happy, putting on a brave face, willing to chat away for hours with anyone. It soon becomes apparent that being stuck in her childhood home with her mother, with no internet and basic TV, might be a crueller punishment than actually going to prison.
Soon into her stay Kylie overhears her mother calling in to a radio talk show, where she tells a story about how she believes her house is haunted, and how she’s seen things in her home for years. Kylie immediately mocks her mother for believing in ghosts, but soon begins to experience strange events in the house herself, such as odd noises in the walls. When she goes down into the cellar one night, and a hand grabs her, she starts to believe that there might be something strange happening in her childhood home.
With the help of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a security contractor assigned to check Kylie’s ankle monitor, who also moonlights as a paranormal investigator, they uncover some startling secrets about her family home, and a dark past containing murder. Unfortunately, Kylie’s growing insistence that there’s something in her house, and that it’s trying to communicate with her in order to solve a decades long murder, soon has her state assigned clinical psychologist, Dennis (Cameron Rhodes), begin to question if Kylie might not be better off in a psychiatric ward. Now Kylie has to find a way to prove that she’s right before her time runs out.
Housebound is filled with moments of horror, and it’s clear that Johnstone knows the genre well. The setting of the remote family home is suitably creepy without straying into the realm of unbelievable, with the appropriate creaks, groans and bumps in the night. And Johnstone seems to know how to direct horror well too, with long, lingering camera shots that have you waiting for something to come looming out of the shadow, and dimly lit locations that feel uneasy despite their normality. And if this was a straight horror film I imagine it would be thoroughly entertaining, and well crafted enough to be a memorable and re-watchable film. But it’s not just a horror, and the comedy elements in the film elevate it to being absolutely fantastic.
From the very first scene of the movie where Kylie and her hapless accomplice fail in their big heist (him getting knocked out almost immediately, and then Kylie trying to make a high speed getaway in an old car that won’t even start) the tone of the movie is set up quickly. Upon arriving at her family home we see that Kylie is going to be the straight-man of the piece, with her anger at the world and nonchalance making her the perfect foil for those around her, like her ever chatty mother who comes out with anything and everything that pops into her head, and the laid back but wonderfully bumbling security contractor Amos popping round every now and then.
There are times when the comedy is subtle, done through some perfectly timed one-liners that almost take a second to land and you start laughing just a moment too late because you realise something ridiculous was just said in the middle of a tense horror scene. Other times, however, the comedy ends up going almost screwball, with some delightfully ridiculous and over the top set pieces and gags that caused everyone watching the film with me to laugh loudly. And all of this is done whilst managing to keep the film suitably scary throughout, with an ever shifting and evolving plot that’s genuinely engaging and will have you trying to figure out what happens next.
The cast are a big part of this, and everyone here feels like they’re on top form. O’Reilly is, as mentioned before, the person who plays the film most straight, almost like her character doesn’t realise she’s in a comedy. The way that she’s able to show disdain and disinterest on her face with the slightest expression makes her perfect for the role, and there are times where you kind of hate her for how much of a childish dick she’s being to her mother. Yet she manages to never stray into hateful, and you can see the vulnerability that her openly hostile exterior is masking. The rest of the cast, in contrast, seem to know that this is a film not to be taken too seriously, and bring a delightful level of charm to every scene they’re in, and bring that wonderful New Zealand comedy charm to the movie.
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It seems like horror is something quite different in New Zealand, a genre where comedy is an intrinsic part of it. Films made in New Zealand such as Black Sheep and What We Do In The Shadows show that well, with the latter going on to spawn an entire expanded universe of shows that embrace the wonderfully wacky horror genre. Even when making horror films outside of New Zealand, directors from the country inject comedy into their horror, such as Peter Jackson‘s The Frighteners. Johnstone seems to have been keeping that marriage of genres alive with Housebound, and if you’re a fan of any of those other films and series this is a movie you’re going to want to pick up.
Housebound is out on the 2nd October on VOD and EST Platforms: iTunes, Amazon, Google, Sky Store, Virgin Media, YouTube.