One the beautiful things about film festivals is the chance to happen upon something you might not have had on your radar otherwise. Such is the case with Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound, a wonderful Scooby-Doo yarn through the filter of a dysfunctional -indie-family-comedy that defies expectations and bursts with life and joy and energy.
The film centers around Kylie Bucknell (the luminous Morgana O’Reilly), a rebellious and vitriolic 20 something who is sentenced to house arrest after a botched ATM heist shown in bumbling glory at the onset. She has gone around the bend on chances to go through halfway houses or rehab programs (despite tepid attempts by her lawyer to argue otherwise) and instead is ordered back to her mother’s home for eight months for ‘some stability.’ This is clearly a bit of a joke, though, because her endlessly prattling-on gossipy mother and nearly mute stepfather aren’t exactly pillars of normalcy. Kylie, for her part, fights this whole thing tooth and nail – she is Alexandra Daddario by way of Joan Jett – all sneer and venom spitting but endearing and charming and lovely all at the same time.
Soon after being ankle-braceleted and confined to her mother’s ramshackle house (which we learn was part of the divorce settlement with Kylie’s father to buy this mess of a home for her) things start bumping in the night and the day and Kylie must fight her annoyance over it to figure out what might be going on. This is channeled through the security guard guy Angus (Glen-Paul Waru) initially tasked with monitoring her movements and compliance with the rules but turns out to be an amateur spook-finder when the possible haunting is brought up. Kylie’s irritation with Angus is amazingly funny and comes to a fever pitch when Angus starts getting involved in the ‘supernatural investigation.’ Kylie finds nothing reasonable about this twit of a man being an expert on anything and she grates him and questions him and teases him at every opportunity.
However, once the investigation widens to learning the history of the house, possible connections with a creepy neighbor or previous owners and how all this strangeness fits together, her reliance on Angus becomes more legit. Not so much that you get some stupid romantic BS between them, but where her understanding of the value of others grows. It isn’t showy or sappy and is instead riddled with her trademark spit and meanness. Same goes for her mother and stepfather where she’d never go into some long speech about it, you see her change without her even being aware. It is charming and very humanistic and gives her character an arc that makes sense.
So once things get into big reveal territory, the film is just about perfect. The last thirty minutes or so of the film is brimming with love of genre filmmaking and a smart, steady pacing that keeps you right there until the very end. It is an absolute joy to watch all the strangeness of the film come to a head in the way that it does. There is not a missed mark or a sour note in any of it. The loving references to Kiwi films like Dead Alive and horror greats like Carpenter don’t feel winky or cheesy and instead just feel like a natural part of the whole thing. It is with this reverence for the genre and originality and bloody spirit that Housebound succeeds on everything it is shooting for. It is a grand example with what you can do with a horror-loving heart, a solid cast, a simple idea and the guiding thought that this stuff ought be fun every once in a while.