"A troubled young woman is convicted of petty felonies and forced to withstand house arrest in the home of her estranged mother, blank slate of a stepfather, and a bunch of evil spirits who make creepy noises..."
Yeah, Housebound probably sounds like a mash-up of two or three clunkers you'd probably rent from Redbox and end up hating. Something about terms like "troubled woman," "house arrest," "estranged mother," and "evil spirits" can make a movie sound like a dry and predictable affair.
Fortunately that is not the case with Housebound, which comes from New Zealand and therefore has a strong sense of humor, a nice dose of legitimate creepiness, a decent portion of gory mayhem, and some very appealing performers. Housebound is more of a horror / thriller / mystery with a good sense of humor than it is a horror comedy, but whatever the "subgenre," it's always nice when a film can deliver scares, splatter, and chuckles in equal measure.
Since we already covered the essentials of the plot synopsis earlier, let's cut right to the highlights: Morgana O'Reilly (as a petulant loner who slowly becomes more charming as the film goes on) and Rima Te Wiata (as her long-suffering mother, who starts out as, well, annoying, but quickly becomes the comedic hero of the whole movie) are a very unlikely ghost-busting duo. First-time writer/director Gerard Johnstone starts out with one simple hook -- Kylie on "haunted" house arrest -- and then he slowly expands to include hidden passages, secret rooms, buried secrets, and some horrors that are not in any way supernatural. If Housebound has a glitch, it's perhaps that Mr. Johnstone goes a touch too slowly in some of the more exposition-heavy scenes. This very good 107-minute movie might be even better as a 100-minute movie, but given how strange, amusing, and disconcertingly charming Housebound is, a little flab in the editorial department is hardly a major crime.
As Kylie discovers all sorts of strange (and scary!) secrets about her mother's old house, Housebound becomes considerably busier than one might expect from a movie about a mother and a daughter who butt heads constantly before eventually coming to terms on one thing: that something evil is afoot in this damn house! Could be ghosts or demons or some freaky guy who lives out in the forest, but Housebound does manage to cover an admirable amount of genre-friendly ground before winding up with a funny, suspenseful, and kinetic third act.
The leading ladies steal the show, both separately and as a duo, and there's some great support from Glen-Paul Waru as a security guard who helps Kylie search for clues -- but a special mention goes to everyone in the sound and music departments on Housebound. Not only is Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper's score both evocative of horror classics and wonderfully energetic in its own right, but Mr. Johnstone and his aural technicians have taken special care in this department. Just keep your ears tuned in as you watch Housebound and you'll hear what I mean. It's little touches like sound design and simple but appealing cinematography that separate forgettable indie horror films from good indie horror films. Housebound is actually very good.