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John’s Horror Corner: Housebound (2014), a dark New Zealand horror comedy that just may be the hidden gem you’ve been looking for

March 13, 2015

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MY CALL:  A dark New Zealand horror comedy that just may be the hidden gem you’ve been looking for.  MORE MOVIES LIKE HouseboundDead Alive (1992), although more extreme in all aspects, captured dark New Zealand humor in a similar way.

First things first.  This has a cover/poster that makes it look like a home invader movie like The Strangers (2008), some descriptions and reviews that suggest it is a haunted house movie, and it is marketed as a horror comedy.  More accurate than anything is that this New Zealand horror flick is a comedy.  It smacks of Dead Alive (1992) if you were to turn the gore down from an “11” to a “2” and the utterly zany insanity is much lower as well.

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I mean, yes, there is gore.  It’s just that it pales in comparison to Dead-Alive.

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While advertised as a horror comedy, the first half of this movie will not make that obvious.  I found a lot of things funny, but they didn’t seem deliberate in the sense of filming a comedy.  It just seemed to be the interesting nature of the characters.  However, as the story advanced, so did the obvious intent of the humor therein.  And as for the horror, you may jump but this movie is not scary and only playfully creepy.

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More than just “playfully creepy” was this Teddy Bear.

The pissy antihero of the story is recently convicted Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), who is placed under house arrest with her mother and stepfather after she gets caught doing a smash-and-grab job.  More like an angry, petulant teenager than a woman in her 20s, Kylie resists her mother’s every attempt to be pleasant, civil, constructive, or generally happy.  It seems that Kylie is doing everything she can to make her parents’ lives as miserable as hers.  It’s funny to watch this unfold and well-acted, but it’s a little frustrating as well.  We really don’t find ourselves rooting for Kylie at this point.

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I’m just gonna’ sit here and sulk.

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Kylie’s mother (Rima Te Wiata), however, is absolutely delightful.  She’s overly pleasant, loves small talk-loving, a bit naïve, and she believes that her house is haunted.  All of these things annoy the grumpy Kylie, who is especially antagonistic to her mother’s belief in their ghostly houseguests.  Kylie experiences “an encounter” in the basement when investigating a rogue ringing cell phone and insists there is a home invader.  Kylie’s mother has other ideas of the nature of this intruder and she’s really cute about her opinion on the matter.

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“What was that sound, mum?”

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“Probably a ghost, Kylie.”

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“Shhhhh! I’m trying to hear the ghosts.”

There to back Kylie’s mother up is Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), a security guard who monitors Kylie’s house arrest and responds to their call about the recent disturbance.  When he finds no sign of a break-in or intruder, he suggests the presence of an other-worldly form.  Like Kylie’s mother, Amos brings us more comic relief but in a more straight-faced role as an amateur paranormal investigator.  He sets up the house with cameras a la Paranormal Activity but don’t worry, the movie does not follow that over-used playbook at all.  It takes its own path devoid of found footage, shaky cameras and video analysis.

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[CLOCKWISE from top left] Amos goes all Ghost Hunters on the house; an evil Teddy Bear scares Kylie but no one wants to believe her, she tells the police about her disturbances and they just call her probation officer, and her mother “always knew” about the ghosts so Kylie snarls at her a lot.

From here things take a few interesting turns leaving us wondering about the nature of Kylie’s encounter in the basement and several other “weird sounds” in the house.  We learn about the disturbing history of the house and murders that took place there when it served as a halfway house for mentally unstable youths.  We meet an extremely creepy neighbor.  Kylie meets with a therapist (Cameron Rhodes; The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring) who suggests that her overly active mind in her inactive house arrest setting may be playing tricks on her.  And with all this piled up on us, people start dying and Kylie becomes a believer in the paranormal.  I should warn, however, that one major plot turn rather reduced my interest significantly.  It did remain funny, though…even funnier, in fact.

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“What’s the creepy neighbor doing?  Creepy things?”

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Amos finds some old articles about Kylie’s mum’s house.

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The “intruder” makes an appearance.

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And then we meet this weirdo who looks like a raccoon.

Writer/director Gerard Johnstone does a fine job with his first feature length film and I am eager to see what he does next.  After all, perhaps the things I didn’t like about the third act were more a product of taste than quality.

The characters are interesting, fun and quirky…and perfectly acted for this film.  The story doesn’t go anywhere we expect.  And I laughed a lot among a few unexpected jumps.  Part of me wants to call this a gem but I just wasn’t pleased with where the story went in the third act.  It got weird in an unexciting way for me (and my company watching it), even though it was a sort of original story element and the humor certainly accelerated for the better.

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I’d say you should see this if you enjoy off-color horror comedy.  This was just a semi-precious stone for me, but for you it may be just the hidden gem you’ve been wanting.

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