“Housebound” is a very clever thriller/comedy from New Zealand written and directed by Gerard Johnstone. It stars Morgana O’Reilly as sour-faced Kylie, a thief and former addict who is sentenced to house arrest in her mother’s home, only to discover that the place is apparently haunted. The movie moves deftly from dark comedy to slapstick to suspense, with several unexpected twists. In the opening scene, Kylie and a friend are trying to break into an atm, and the lighting and music are dark and serious, [Spoiler] but then the friend suddenly knocks himself out with his own weapon. It was so unexpected that I burst out laughing, and Kylie’s expression is priceless. This sets the tone for the film’s fun unpredictability.
The first half makes good use of moments where ominous music leads to something comical, such as when the mom Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) suddenly appears at the car window while Kylie and the probation officers sit staring at the gloomy house. Wiata is note-perfect as the oblivious, silly, blabbermouth mom, telling Kylie she’s lucky and “quite spoiled” to have an ankle monitor, just because it’s fancy technology. (Her heavy accent à la “Flight of The Conchords” adds to the humor.) Kylie sulks, makes a mess in the house, and insults the counselor (Cameron Rhodes) who comes to see her, until a terrifying experience in the basement sets off her monitor and brings bumbling probation officer Amos to the house (Glen-Paul Waru).
When no one can be found in the basement, Miriam re-asserts her previous claim that the house is haunted and, unfazed, Amos whips out a tape recorder as if he’s on “Ghosthunters”. He launches a paranormal investigation full of cliches – “Does it feel colder to you right here?” – and meanwhile Kylie is tormented by a deranged Teddy Ruxpin-type doll, creeped out by a suspicious neighbor and tipped off by her dormouse of a stepdad that the house was not exactly what Miriam claimed it was before her parents bought it (at a major discount).
It’s best not to give away too much because the plot takes familiar ghost story elements and twists them, so it’s a really fun ride. Look out for a funny moment with the line, “I know a place we can hide!” near the end. It’s a perfect movie for Halloween and it’s available now on “video on demand” or iTunes.