Sunday, October 2, 2016

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies 2016: Housebound

Time for the second movie in the Kiwi Comedy/Horror Double Feature!

"You can't punch ectoplasm."

What is it about New Zealand and horror comedies? Part of it has to be the influence of Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Dead Alive and The Frighteners), but it seems like there's a disproportionate number of Kiwi horror films that have a comedic bent. For every film like The Scarecrow we have a handful like Black Sheep, Deathgasm, or What We Do in the Shadows. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining - I enjoy a good horror/comedy and these are generally fun films - it just seems like New Zealanders can't really take horror seriously. At least not for long.

Which brings us to Housebound, a film that has all the trappings of a haunted house movie mixed with Rear Window (via Disturbia), but just can't quite keep from smirking and chuckling before letting out a single loud (and gory) guffaw.

The Medium
Housebound is on Netflix, and that's how I saw it. Streaming quality was uniformly good - something that's been a problem with some other streaming services lately (I'm looking at you, Amazon). The cinematography is excellent, but definitely not something you need to have on Blu-ray to appreciate.

The Movie
Housebound opens with an attempted heist of an ATM. It all goes hilariously wrong and as the female half of the criminal duo sits in the getaway car - stranded on a traffic bump, waiting as the sirens get closer - the expression on her face tells you everything you need to know about her life. Of course, her expression says, of course this is how it goes. This is how it always goes.

Thaat's the look. Or she has gas.

This is Kylie Bucknell (Morganna O'Reilly), our pugnacious (and pugilistic) protagonist. Sentenced to house arrest, Kylie is forced (and restricted by ankle alert bracelet) to move back into her childhood home with her taciturn stepfather Graeme (Ross Harper) and her decidedly NOT taciturn mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). Kylie reacts as you'd expect a troubled, self-centered, angry teen to - she makes  life miserable for everyone around her - particularly Miriam.

"Do I actually have to say the words 'piss off,' or are you getting it from my body language?"

Even before things start to get weird we know we're not watching some family drama. The cinematography is all shadows and contrast. It's never sunny. The music is all moody and full of menace (a bit too much at times). Kylie's childhood home is eccentric and full of weird angles and too many doors. And there's the neighbor, who's a tad creepy - skinning animals in the backyard and giving Kylie the stink eye. Of course Kylie is no shrinking violet, and he gets the stink eye right back.

So when things do start to get weird, we're already primed. Kylie hears Miriam on a radio call in show talking about strange goings on in the house. Kylie is, of course, skeptical (and condescending), but she does start hearing weird noises. And then something grabs her ankles while she's in the basement and all her carefully managed skepticism vanishes. The police and her court-ordered therapist (who looks like a Kiwi version of Ted Cruz with a slightly less punchable face) don't believe her or Miriam, of course, but the duo finds a surprising ally in Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), the security officer assigned to monitor Kylie's ankle bracelet.

Ted Cruz by way of Hobbiton, maybe.

I like the main characters a lot and the film gives each of them enough space to become something more than one note caricatures. Miriam starts out seeming to be the worst sort of constantly rambling, clueless, Coronation-Street-watching mother figure, but it comes from a hope and belief that things will turn out okay, if we just look at the positive. Kylie is broken and awful to everyone around her and she doesn't want to care - because caring is how you get hurt. Amos is just as dry and matter-of-fact (and slightly goofy) with his ghost-hunting as he is about Kylie's ankle device.  He's got motion sensitive cameras and conducts recording for EVPs with perfect dead-pan seriousness, but he's also the kind of guy you can call for help in the middle of the night and he'll be there, only a few questions asked.

"Shh! I'm trying to look like the villain from the Star Trek movie."

A significant amount of the humor in the film comes from the interaction between Amos and Kylie:
Amos: What are you gonna do against a hostile spirit? You just gonna crack jokes?
Kyle: No, I'm gonna smash it in the face.
Amos: You can't punch ectoplasm.

"What if I punched  it in the..."

Which is not to say that the film skimps on the horror elements. There's a talking teddy bear that stalks and attacks Kylie. She DOES respond by punching it in the face - several times - before tossing the croaking, creepy thing into the fireplace. There's definitely something weird going on in the house, which has a history of crime and violence. And there's that weird neighbor - who may or may not be involved.

Also has a punchable face.

Housebound is recent enough that I don't want to give away much of the plot, but it veers between ghost story, thriller, murder mystery and comedy with general deftness. There are a few missteps here and there and one character that veers sharply into unbelievable territory, but it remains a satisfying ride for the most part. There's also one extremely gory moment - played almost entirely for laughs - that's a bit of a shock in a movie that's kept the bloodshed to a minimum up to that point.

It was a surprise for everyone, really.

The Bottom Line:
 If it doesn't quite hold together in the end - if there are elements too fantastical or convenient - well, that's only something I started to think about after Housebound was over. While I was watching I bought in and enjoyed it for all of its elements - characters, horror, comedy and the occasional subversion of expectation. Well worth a watch.

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