Sydney Underground Film Festival Review: Housebound (New Zealand, 2014)


There are two film genres that are notoriously hard to get just right – horror and comedy. So does that make a horror-comedy mash-up near impossible to perfect? Evidently not-so for Kiwi writer/director, Gerard Johnstone who nailed it on his first try with Housebound.

The first horror film to (finally) present a practical reason for characters not simply moving away from a haunted house, Housebound’s protagonist is under house arrest. Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is a wayward twenty-something, who has been charged with attempted robbery and ordered by a lenient judge to spend eight months under house arrest at her mother Miriam’s (Rima Te Wiata) place. To Kylie, eight months with her well intentioned, timid, chatterbox of a mother, seems like a life sentence – especially when she learns that her mother has always picked the place to be haunted.

One or two too many spooky occurrences later, Kylie turns to security expert and all things paranormal enthusiast, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) for help. The sleuthing odd-couple of angry tough girl Kylie and cuddly teddy bear Amos makes for some very funny moments. When Kylie tells Amos, for instance, that if she sees a ghost she plans to “smash him in the face,” Amos mutters under his breath, “you can’t punch ectoplasm.”

As Amos and Kylie slowly begin to unravel the mystery of the true history of Miriam’s house, the film builds towards its hilarious climax – but not without some very clever and unexpected plot twists along the way.

Housebound excels in finding the perfect balance between laugh out loud funny lines and jump out of your seat scares. Johnstone’s screenplay moves along at an upbeat pace, but not without allowing time for us to invest in the well-written characters and the amusing situation in which they’ve found themselves.

As mentioned, the plot twists are thankfully not predictable or irritating, despite there being a fair few of them. The comedy doesn’t resort to being a parody of typical horror film tropes, rather, it is its own brand of gloriously laconic, self-effacing Kiwi humour. There is also some physical comedy gold in Housebound with several household objects being used hilariously as self-defense weapons – ten points for the cheese grater gag.

As far as filmmaking goes, again Johnstone truly impresses as a first-time feature director. The look of the film is brilliant, with excellent use of shadows, mirrors, tight frames and cramped spaces to build the tense atmosphere. The production design of the house itself gives it that wonderful spooky, cluttered, creaky feel without being too unfriendly or unliveable. The sound design and score work really well together as the perfect finishing touch to the eerie ambience and help instigate the scary moments without simply resorting to a sudden blast of loud noise following dead silence.

Housebound is an extremely delightful and rollickingly fun surprise package of laughs and frights. The talented ensemble cast plays Johnstone’s wittily written characters with deft and energy, and the film makes for a playful and refreshing take on the classic haunted-house movie. Bloody good fun (pun intended) and yet another flick helping to put New Zealand on the indie cinema map.


Housebound was the opening night film at the Sydney Underground Film Festival.


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