Sunday, 24 August 2014

Frightfest London 2014 - Housebound

I feel an explanation is due. Yesterday we published a review of Housebound as part of our Frightfest coverage which was written by Sam Inglis who is responsible for the brilliant 24 Frames Per Second movie blog (seriously...check it out it's fantastic). Here he occupies the role of my wing man and sometimes, inevitably, we disagree on the quality of a movie. I decided that in the event of my opinion of Housebound being significantly more positive than his I would put up my own counterpoint review. And so it came to pass that I enjoyed the movie approx twice as much as Sam did.  We would appreciate you sharing your opinion. Did you enjoy Housebound or do you share Sam's opinion that its critical success is entirely bewildering? Feedback can be provided either by leaving a comment here or letting us know via our Twitter feed (  Without further ado he's my 8 out of 10 review. Enjoy.

Housebound is an extremely satisfying and, for a first feature, surprisingly confident exercise in cinematic misdirection that has gathered a healthy amount of buzz as it's bounced from festival to festival in the wake of its debut at South by Southwest in March 2014.  Even if it isn't quite as perfect as the close to 100% positive word of mouth would suggest it really doesn't fall too short of living up to the critical response and puts New Zealand director Gerard Johnstone firmly on the radar as a talent worth watching.  It's even received plaudits from none other than Peter Jackson; a guy who knows a thing or two about how to deliver a great low-budget horror flick complete with a side-order of humour.

The story opens with a badly botched attempt to break into a cash point which results in wild child Kylie being sentenced to home detention for eight months.  So it is that she finds herself a prisoner in her childhood home with only her motormouth mother and taciturn stepfather to keep her company.  The house itself appears to be haunted and it soon becomes apparent that it comes complete with one of those pesky violent histories with a young girl having been brutally murdered during its previous existence as a halfway house for disturbed adolescents.  With the scene set thusly writer/director Johnstone takes the audience on a twisty-turny, relentlessly fun journey from spookfest to murder mystery with energetic, always entertaining results.

Chief amongst the many things Johnstone gets right with Housebound is the casting. Ex-Neighbours actress Morgana O'Reilly hits precisely the right note as the errant daughter and makes Kylie's transformation from disrespectful wastrel to heroine completely believable.  There's also quite a lot of physical stunt-work in the last half hour of the movie and she really throws herself into it.  Her long-suffering and slightly dippy mother Miriam is brought to wonderful life by Rima Te Wiata, another veteran of Aussie soap, and the back and forth between parent and daughter is consistently entertaining thanks to an often amusing script. Glen Paul-Waru, who plays Amos, the security guard charged with overseeing Kylie's detention and who also happens to have a keen interest in all things paranormal is less effective but not disastrously so.  Perhaps this is a result of his having less acting experience.  He has some off moments but overall he's decent and his character is so amiable that it's easy to forgive his momentary shortcomings.

The other star of the movie is the house itself.  Full of strange noises and lights that tend to switch off at the least opportune moment it provides a wonderfully atmospheric backdrop and as its various secrets are revealed becomes only more effective as Housebound spirals towards its action packed conclusion. It helps that in Simon Riera the movie is gifted with a cinematographer who delivers some fine hand held camerawork, full of clever fast-cuts,  without ever straying into the intolerable realms of shakey-cam where, more often than not, it becomes impossible to follow the flow of the action from one moment to the next.  Overall it's a handsomely lensed movie.

The only problem I had with Housebound is less to do with the quality of the movie and more an issue with it being marketed as a horror comedy.  The humour here is largely derived from the characters and the dialogue rather than from the situation and, with the exception of one scene near the end, I found myself smiling along with it rather than laughing. If you go in expecting it to be uproariously funny in the style of Braindead you might be a bit disappointed. It's not that kind of movie.

There's much I'm unable to say about this wonderful addition to New Zealand's sadly limited history of horror cinema. There are twists and turns that are so intrinsic to the movie's effectiveness that to go into any more detail than I already have would be to insult the film-makers and deprive its future audience of much of the fun it has to offer.  Housebound is an exciting ride, packed with ghoulish surprises, that despite being close to two hours long hurtles along at such a pace that it feels so much shorter.   Highly recommended.

Steve's Score:

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