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Review: “Housebound”

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Not your typical slasher flick – although there is indeed some slashing. Not your typical horror flick – although you’ll probably be jumping in your seat a few times. Not your typical comedy, either. So what’s the New Zealand cinematic production “Housebound” like? Today’s guest reviewer, Leipzig-based writer Christijan Robert Broerse, tells us why the movie’s dark humor and “paranormal” surprises have left a big impression on him, and why you should go see it for yourself.

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“Housebound” (New Zealand, 2014, horror/comedy/thriller)

Somewhere between quirky and quaint is the right definition of New Zealand comedy films.

This film, in the category of horror comedy, contains that right and beautiful balance of nuanced characters and quizzical fun but never resorts to ridiculous plot twists. It occupies that place between the quirky and quaint, keeping audiences smiling and laughing even when things get spooky, mysterious and a bit bloody.

The story opens at night in a nondescript city in New Zealand where Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) and a rather daft accomplice attempt to steal money from an ATM. The accomplice, whether boyfriend or buddy, knocks himself out by using a sledge hammer against the metal of the bank machine’s dash, the tool bouncing seemingly off the ATM and into his own face, knocking him out cold. Such are the laughs that begin this head-shaking and joyously fun film.

Kylie is soon caught and the judge, believing the justice system has failed the young woman, sentences her to house arrest. Her wardens: her mother, the ever-cheerful and chatty Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and her socially awkward and quiet stepfather, Graeme (Ross Harper). At first, the transition back to her childhood home is ho-hum for Kylie. She picks up where she left off, having been a difficult and arrogant adolescent. She leaves messes in the kitchen, hogs the television (her favourite program being an antiques show) and lets her parents know she isn’t happy with her series of sulky and sneering glances. Listening to the radio one night, however, she hears her own mother as a guest on a supernatural talk radio program, going on about unexplained phenomenon in the house, toward which the host as much as the film audience seem intrigued but not quite ready to believe.

Yet when things creak, crack and caustically bump in the night, Kylie begins to suspect her mother might be right: the place may indeed be haunted.

Cue Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a security contractor by day, an amateur-ghost hunter by night. He’s the one keeping tabs on Kylie, making sure she doesn’t tamper with her ankle monitor; when he and the female delinquent team up together, it’s tense but riotous fun.

Writer, director and editor Gerard Johnstone hasn’t just crafted a work of pure entertainment, he’s written a wonderful story with unconventional characters, some subtle and telling dialogue and even when the situations get loony, it still comes across as all-too-believable in the realm of the bizarre. There are certain horror movie tropes and motifs – which I don’t want to spoil for the sake of the film’s teasing out of clues – but Johnstone pays homage to them, uses them to great effect and ties them all together.

The house itself is also a character. The establishing shots are reminiscent of those used in such films as the “Amityville Horror” (1979) and “The Haunting” (1963), always that sinister panning down or up, the gables and roof partly hidden by neighboring trees.

As for the horror elements, they are strong, a bit dark but never too brooding as the comedy and human elements ground the narrative. I love a film like this where the heroine, a bit more cynical and hard-edged than the derivative type, gets scared when we onlookers begin to feel the fear. Although vulnerable, she isn’t the type to topple over, falling down due to her own two feet while running away from something frightening. Kylie is far braver and bolder, and her street-smart cunning comes into play in several key scenes.

As for Kylie’s mother, Miriam, despite her incessant chatter, a deepening relationship blossoms between these two dissimilar women. I have to hand it to Johnston; while building up an atmosphere of tension and mystery, he manages to create some nice mother-daughter moments along the way.

More characters join the narrative journey and play a part but again, to provide introductions, a bit more detail and therefore to mention them, would be potential plot spoilers. And I don’t want to do that. Though I must say, even when you’ve sat through this Kiwi gem, you’ll most likely want to return for the laughs and see all the clues you might have missed upon the first viewing.

Check this film out before it’s overshadowed by its forthcoming American remake.

Born and raised in the humbled but multi-cultural working class city of St. Catharines, Canada (near Niagara Falls), Christijan Broerse grew up in an environment of languages. In 2012, he traveled throughout Europe and seeing no other place more beautiful than Leipzig, he moved here two years later. Christijan is comfortable in prose and in poetry. He is also known to craft the occasional tune.

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