Horror comedies are always a high wire act. Some titles like Dead Alive and Tucker & Dale vs. Evil find the right balance between laughs and chills, transcending their genre limitations, while others, (Kevin Smith’s latest, Tusk, for example), aim to be both scary and funny, but end up being neither. The 2014 New Zealand horror comedy Housebound, falls firmly in the former category. It’s a mishmash of genres that gracefully moves between horror, comedy, ghost story, and murder mystery.
The setup is perfect in its simplicity. Kylie, a troubled hooligan, is sentenced to eight months of house arrest following an attempt to break into an ATM. Forced to move back into her well-meaning, but clueless parent’s home, she lounges around, drinks during the day, and is a general pain in the ass. Things almost immediately start to go bump in the night. While she is initially skeptical of her mother’s ghost stories, an encounter with a maniacal, talking teddy bear convinces Kylie that the house is indeed haunted. She partners with Amos, the security guard in charge of monitoring her ankle bracelet, to investigate and discovers that there are plenty of other, more horrifying secrets waiting behind the walls of her family home.
Housebound is the writing-directing feature debut of Gerard Johnstone. His pitch-perfect script is wickedly funny without trying too hard and he shoots the film with a confident, playful style reminiscent of Sam Raimi. The film is also elevated by its strong performances. Morgana O’Reilly brings toughness, smarts, and loads of sarcasm to her portrayal of Kylie, making her female protagonist stronger than most found in the genre. Her partner Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) is a great comic foil and her gossiping, chatty mother (Rima Te Wiata) delivers plenty of laughs.
Of course it wouldn’t be a horror movie without scares and Housebound keeps the tension heightened throughout with a mix of false and very real terrors. Through his expert use of shadows and camera angles, cinematographer Simon Riera makes seemingly harmless objects like teddy bears and Jesus statues menacing. There’s also the obligatory gross-out moments, including a head-exploding bloody finale but Housebound also has an emotional core that addresses the rebellious nature of youth and learning to accept one’s parents that still resonates despite the craziness that surrounds it. It does go on for a little too long but that is only a minor fault; the film is so much fun you’ll barely notice. Offering an inventive mix of screwball comedy and white knuckle terror, Housebound is a perfectly calibrated horror comedy and one of the best horror movies of 2014.
Housebound is currently streaming on Netflix.