Spooky Movie Festival 2014: “Housebound” reviewed

Posted by Michael Parsons on October 17, 2014 in , / No Comments


A good old-fashioned, creaky stairs, don’t-go-in-the-basement style haunted house flick, the New Zealand-set “Housebound” is exactly the type of genre film that I’ve been sorely missing over the last several years. Recent heavy-hitters like “The Conjuring” and “Oculus” certainly served up more than their share of scares, sure, but there’s something especially menacing about the unvarnished look and unpredictable temperament of a good indie ghost story that taps directly into my horror-infatuated inner child. Call me nostalgic, I guess.

The film centers on Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), a rebellious young woman whose ill-conceived attempt to rob a teller machine buys her eight months of house arrest with her estranged mom (Rima Te Wiata) and stepdad Graeme (Ross Harper). Even worse, mom believes that the house is 120748_galhaunted, something Kylie had long ago dismissed as a hazy misconception from her childhood. Mysterious sounds from the walls are merely a fleeting curiosity to Kylie, as she’s more irritated about her new living arrangement than any vague signs of a supernatural presence.

Things begin to progress, of course, and Kylie finds herself starting to believe the stories after a search for her missing cell phone leads to a scare in the basement that seems inspired by the 1980 film “Silent Scream”. Conveniently, it turns out that Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), the security guy who monitors her court-mandated ankle bracelet, has a working knowledge of things that go bump in the night, and thus begins an investigation into the house’s “negative residual energy”. After finding some not-very-well hidden file boxes in the basement, Kylie and Amos discover that Kylie’s mom had purchased the house for a song because, ummm, it used to be a halfway house where a brutal murder took place some twenty years ago. Nothing like a disgruntled specter to get a quarreling mother and daughter on the same page.

This only scratches the surface of “Housebound”, which aspires to cover several sub-genres when the story splinters off into some wildly bizarre directions while also winking at icons like Wes Craven and John Carpenter. A creepy neighbor and an even creepier Teddy Bear are among just a few of the scare tactics that first-time feature writer/director Gerard Johnstone effectively incorporates into this crafty, darkly humorous horror/mystery, which terrifies and amuses in roughly equal measure as a gory and unpredictable third act approaches.

“Neighbours” regular O’Reilly is fun to watch, first as a sulking, belligerent child and eventually as a surprisingly competent sleuth who utilizes her skills as a burglar during the investigation, and Waru steals his scenes as the ghostbusting security guard who quickly finds himself in over is head. As goofy as that may sound, “Housebound” is a frightening flick that finds a good balance between subtle humor and some well-placed jolts, showing reverence to the way horror movies used to scare us in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

“Housebound” is playing tonight at the Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival and also available on VOD.


Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

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