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 haunted, 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.