October 17, 2014
Morgana O’Reilly as Kylie Bucknell
Rima Te Wiata as Miriam Bucknell
Glen-Paul Waru as Amos
If you went into the Annabelle experience hoping to have your appetite for the haunted house sated, and walked away feeling unfulfilled, don’t consider 2014 a lost cause just yet, writer/director Gerard Johnstone is making a case for himself and his wicked black comedy, Housebound. Now, the tone of the two pictures is night and day, but Annabelle arrived under the guise of the scariest haunted house film of the year, while Housebound actually manages to be the scariest haunted house film of the year. It’s also the funniest (that includes direct comparison to the surprisingly enjoyable Wayans project A Haunted House 2). To juggle scares and laughs to the effect that this lot manages is not only rare, it’s profoundly admirable. Not since Paul Andrew Williams’The Cottage have we seen dance partners of this opposing nature come together to create a genuinely artful Tango.
The story follows the troubled Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), who after a botched robbery is placed on house arrest, forced to move back in with her mother. It’s the last place she wants to be, and when she actually finds her tail back in the abode she was raised in, she really remembers all the reasons she hated living with old mum. The damn house is haunted. Things go bump in the night, things move on their own and stuffed animals have a weird way of coming to life and speaking in demonic voices. To make matters worse, Kylie learns that there’s an extremely dark history to the house, and there’s valid reason to believe that legitimate paranormal activity swarms the crib. Is it malicious? Could it be the pleas of a tortured soul in search of peace? Or is it something entirely different? Without entirely spoiling the story, I’ll tell you this: It’s the latter.
This is what hybrid filmmaking is all about. It’s about successfully tapping into extreme measures of two dramatically different film genres and bringing them together as one harmonic sum. The comedy in Housebound is absolutely golden. Kylie is a complete firecracker with enough quips to leave viewers in stitches, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) – Kylie’s mother – is brilliantly aloof and Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) is a loveable, good natured oaf who inadvertently finds himself the butt of all jokes. What may be most impressive about the humor is the manner in which the physicality works. It’s not a slaptstick picture, but the focal three add a mystifying level of comedic gold with their facial expressions. No joke, half of the jokes are fueled by their facial mannerisms and oddball contortions. It’s just pitch perfect. On the flip side of the coin, the terror showcased in the flick is absolutely chilling. There are a handful of moments that are going to leave your skin crawling, and the setting of the film – the house, primarily, of course – is damn creepy. There’s an almostAmityville vibe in certain spots, and even if the kooky old casa doesn’t get you, things like electronic bears who babble in evil tones will set you off. You just don’t see many productions that balance laughs with fear like this.
Now, none of this praise is to say the picture unravels without a hiccup or two. There are some pretty extreme improbabilities to contemplate, and a few cues that just simply go missed (even my daughter caught the fact that Kylie’s electronic ankle bracelet doesn’t sound when she speeds from her premises headed for the police station), but the problems with the flick are completely muted by a myriad of spellbinding sequences and hearty laughs. The onscreen chemistry is to die for, the pacing is breakneck, never a dull moment to snore through, and the concept takes a tired trope and makes it quite fresh all over again. Between Morgana O’Reilly’s feisty attitude and uncharacteristic attractiveness, we’re left to accept her as a sexy star on the rise likely capable of tackling an assortment of characters, and that pushes the entire production into a warm, welcoming realm. The truth is, I’ll line up to watch any of these performers again. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch, and the film as a whole is one of the greatest of 2014. Do yourself a proper justice and track this one down immediately.