Housebound, if the critical reaction so far is anything to go by, appears to be on track to be one of the big hits of Frightfest, but it left me extremely disappointed, and not a little baffled as to why it's had such a great reception so far.
Kylie (Morgana O'Reilly) is in her mid-twenties and after a botched cashpoint robbery she is sentenced to eight months house arrest at her estranged Mother's (Rima Te Wiata) home. Kylie's mother has long believed the house is haunted, which Kylie dismisses until she begins to hear noises. After one incident Kylie's probation officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who is interested in the paranormal, begins investigating the history of the house, eventually drawing Kylie in to what seems to be developing into a murder mystery.
Housebound is essentially a film of two halves, neither of them especially original or notably brilliantly executed. In its first half it develops into a very standard issue noises off haunted house movie; creaking pipes, creepy props and the odd boo scare. The second half switches focus slightly, becoming a murder mystery (but not a terribly well developed or interesting one) with horror undertones. I've also seen reviews allege that Housebound is meant to be a horror comedy. I'm not sure where anyone gets that impression, but I can only recall one thing I'd call a joke.
Morgana O'Reilly is okay as Kylie, but she's not an especially interesting or enjoyable character to follow. Kylie treats everyone around her (Mum, Stepfather, probation officer, psychiatrist) with contempt and evolves only minimally as the film goes on. You can't blame O'Reilly for turning in a one note performance when that appears to be what was on the page, but one note it is. The only character you can really root for here is Amos, (and Glen-Paul Waru does a nice job in the part) but the film does less and less with him as it goes on and he stops fulfilling its exposition needs by motivating Kylie (a bit). By the end, Housebound seems to be chucking things at the wall to see if they'll stick, and for me they seldom do, especially in the case of a character introduced late in the day to no story purpose but to be a red herring (also, where does he get his make up?)
In a murder mystery there is often a balancing act between seeding your solution so that it doesn't arrive out of the blue and tipping your hand too early. Housebound doesn't strike this balance well, instead it simply seems to run out of characters who could have been responsible, before surrendering to a very rote stalk and slash ending.
There are a few nice ideas in Housebound, but several are poorly used. The fact that Kylie is tied to the house by the ankle bracelet that enforces her house arrest is an idea that promises much drama, but it's only used once and the twist with Amos' character, while a fun moment, means it can't pay off a second time. Only a couple of scenes stand out as being truly effective. First is the one joke I recall, which starts by playing on a typical shower scene and has a neat payoff. Secondly there's a decent suspense scene as Kylie searches the house of her leading suspect in the murder. These moments are fine, but they hardly add up to much when combined with the rest of the film.
Housebound isn't terrible, if it were I actually might have had more fun with it, instead it's a rather dull exercise that walks two well traveled paths and isn't especially interesting company on either journey.