“HOUSEBOUND” (SXSW Movie Review)
Is the New Zealand horror-comedy back? At the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s vampire mock doc WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS was one of the strongest in the lineup. Little over a month later, Gerard Johnstone’s HOUSEBOUND world premieres at SXSW and is almost immediately the surprise of the slate. Both pit the gothic and the modern against each other, and while SHADOWS is a purely silly and unrelentingly hilarious work, HOUSEBOUND manages to balance consistent, fantastic comedy with a properly eerie mystery and what should be a star-making turn from lead Morgana O’Reilly.
In the film, O’Reilly stars as Kylie, a rebel with criminal inclinations whose robbery attempt is thwarted by a parking lot structure. In a move more punishing than jail time, a judge sentences Kylie to house arrest, meaning nine months directly confronting the sources of her lingering angst. Namely, her mother Miriam—a well-meaning, if overly conversational nurturer—and the gothic structure that Miriam’s convinced is haunted.
It’s clear from the onset that despite being prone to the silliest of suburban mother behaviors, Miriam is at heart a good person. It’s the stubborn Kylie that’s in need of focusing her headstrong, wit and resourceful vigor to something other than resentment. Such comes in the form of investigating the strange feeling and odd occurrences pervading her home, even whilst using the bathroom. A skeptic and naturally questioning character, much of HOUSEBOUND’s incredible energy comes from O’Reilly’s endlessly entertaining handle on her facial expressions. Ghostly happenings and authoritative lectures alike are met with all manner of Kylie’s raised eyebrow and expressive eyes. It’d be worth applause if these were the actress’ only strengths, but her spitfire delivery melds with Johnstone’s witty script and fine editing (two things which often sink horror-comedies, especially those which are feature debuts) to create something special.
What’s most surprising about HOUSEBOUND is that Johnstone has such a strong hold on all of the film’s other elements, as well. There’s bloat about, but extra minutes with a great ensemble could certainly be worse. And it isn’t as if HOUSEBOUND is a chore to look at. The picture is often elegantly dripping in atmosphere, from its strong mystery to some truly creepy jolts, to some amazing wallpaper adorning the walls that recall genre favorites of decades past—there are some shades of the great Australian NEXT OF KIN on display, even beyond the truly awesome heroine. Beyond that, HOUSEBOUND neatly carries some universal ideas about throwing away childish indignation and rebellion, and getting to know your parents as people with pasts and personal lives, not just nagging overseers.
Like WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS, is the delightful surprise of HOUSEBOUND indicative of something really great brewing in New Zealand? That remains to be seen of course, but it’s certainly indicative of something really great in Gerard Johnstone.