“Housebound” is a nasty and laugh-out-loud horror comedy from New Zealand. Writer-director Gerard Johnstone has concocted a deadpan Kiwi haunted house farce where the blood spatters and the jokes zing, all the way through its long, drawn-out finale.
Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is a furious 20something punk who doesn’t let her boyfriend’s clumsy act of knocking himself out deter her from finishing off ATM they’re trying to rob. But alas, there is no getaway.
A repeat offender, the meth-and-booze-loving Kylie is sentenced to eight months house arrest with her mum. But from the moment we meet mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) we know New Zealand still practices cruel and unusual punishment.
Miriam is a dithering goof, prone to calling in to paranormal radio shows and telling her tales. Kylie, hostile, swilling beer and generally trashing the house and raging at Miriam and her even-slower-witted second husband (Ross Harper), starts to wonder what Mum is on about.
There are creaking noises and electrical gremlins in their big, multi-storey house. Radios pop on and play Kylie’s favorite song from her teens (“Hello Moto,” by Eskimo). A bear doll starts chatting with her in the dead of the night. Tossing it in the fireplace doesn’t end that.
And something — or someone — grabbed at her ankle in the basement.
Kylie goes a little nuts at all this, trapped by an monitor bracelet, unable to fight or flee this waking nightmare.
But what’s funny is the way everybody else reacts to her plight. Mum isn’t surprised. Limited as she is, she knows something is up. Then there’s Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), the security company guy who monitors Kylie’s house arrest. He answers a call, Kylie shrieks about what’s happening and he whips out a tape recorder, holding it in the air as he asks “the restless spirit that lives in this house — What is your business?”
Amos believes. Cops roll their eyes, Kylie’s therapist wonders if she’s still on drugs or having delusions, but Kylie never doubts her sanity or her response to what is happening to her and Amos is all in, too.
“The closed mind is the worst defense against the paranormal,” he admonishes her. What’ll she do when she finally confronts this ghost? Punch it out, she spits.
“You CAN’T punch ectoplasm!”
The players keep straight faces (Te Wiata is a hoot, Waru the perfect straight man). And O’Reilly works up a fine panic as the mystery unravels. That’s mainly what counts here, the “Whoa, I did not see THAT coming” twists. Some of them are cheats, info we aren’t given until the surprise is sprung.
And writer-director Johnstone doesn’t know when to quit. The climax goes on and on, finishing with an anti-climax, as if the director couldn’t bear to trim his own script.
But he’s still whipped up a clever and claustrophobic thriller that will trip you up and leave you with a wicked, blood-stained grin.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with graphic violence.
Cast: Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru
Credits: Written and directed by Gerard Johnstone. An XLRator Media release.
Running time: 1:51