Wednesday, December 16, 2015

HOUSEBOUND (2014): Horror Comedy VOD Review

 Morgana O'Reilly and Rima Te Wiata star in HOUSEBOUND (2014)
Morgana O'Reilly and Rima Te Wiata star in HOUSEBOUND (2014)

HOUSEBOUND (NR, XLrator Media [USA], 2014), writer-director Gerard Johnstone's directorial feature debut, is a rare find: a good horror comedy. While it is not without its flaws, the film is generally well done, which explains its good performance on the film festival circuit and positive reactions from both critics and moviegoers.


Johnstone and producer Luke Sharpe (also second unit director) made HOUSEBOUND via the indie route in their native New Zealand. They completed it with the assistance of a grant from the New Zealand Film Commission's Escalator scheme. It premiered at South By Southwest 's 2014 film festival, where it was nominated for an Audience Award.

During the rest of its tour of the festival circuit, it won several awards: an Audience Award for Best Feature at the 2014 Dead by Dawn horror film festival; a Narcisse Award for Best Feature Film at the 2014 Neuch√Ętel International Fantastic Film Festival; an Audience Award for the best international fantastic film at the Strasbourg European Fantastic Film Festival; Special Awards for Best Horror Film, Best Comedy, and Best Ensemble Cast at the 2014 Toronto After Dark Film Festival; and Fright Meter Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Rima Te Wiata), Best Horror Movie, and Best Director (Johnstone).

On Rotten Tomatoes, HOUSEBOUND currently has a 97% Tomatometer reading (critics' opinions) and an audience score of 74%. Metacritic documents a less spectacular critics' Metascore of 76 and a user score of 7.9 and designates it as the "#87 Best Movie" of 2014.

Spoiler-Free Story Summary

HOUSEBOUND stars Morgana O'Reilly as Kylie Bucknell. Kylie is very serious young woman -- a serious addict who's seriously angry and whose minor antisocial misadventures are often seriously funny in a slapstick sort of way. The film opens with the bungled crime that lands her in court (again): an ATM heist gone wrong. A judge sentences her to eight months of house arrest at the residence of her mother, Miriam Bucknell (Te Wiata). 

Miriam, a superstitious, chatty gossip, is everything that Kylie does not want to be. Moreover, her suitably creepy old house is also the hated childhood home that Kylie left as soon as she could. Things are worse for her after her return. She's confined to the premises by an electronic ankle bracelet, monitored by Amos (Glen-paul Waru), a private security company technician. She's forced to have therapy sessions with a visiting clinical psychologist, Dennis (Cameron Rhodes).

Amos (Waru) interrogates the resident spirit as Kylie (Bucknell) looks on in HOUSEBOUND
Amos (Waru) interrogates the resident spirit as Kylie (Bucknell) looks on.

At first, Kylie dismisses Miriam's belief that the house is haunted as more of her superstitious nonsense. However, subsequent events convince her otherwise. With the help of Amos, who's also an amateur paranormal investigator, and discoveries made snooping around the house, Kylie sets out to uncover the truth about the unusual phenomena that she observes. Unfortunately, something in the house seems to have set about to do away with her. However, things and people are not always what -- or where -- they seem to be.


The story becomes more complicated than my summary reveals, but giving away more of it would spoil the fun. This fun comes primarily from its horror and comedy genre elements, but there are also healthy doses of mystery and suspense. Although the film suffers from a second-act lag, the promise of the first act is more than paid off in the third -- in all of the genres that this film straddles. Unlike in some other films that feature multiple plot twists and turns, this one makes sense after the ending has been revealed. There is also a bit of satire that makes subtle fun of some horror cliches. It's only when the film tries to get serious that it slows and becomes less entertaining.


HOUSEBOUND is a rare find: a good horror comedy. The subgenre is a notoriously difficult one to master. Usually either the horror or the comedy wins out; one smothers the other, leaving the viewer with a sense of dissatisfaction. Not so in this one, which would be a good choice for at-home entertainment during the current winter holiday season.

TFK's Rating (on IMDb): 7 out of 10 stars

Disclosure: TFK viewed this film on Netflix and wrote this review based on personal selection. No review request (formal or informal) was involved in this choice.