SXSW Gets Housebound
Director Gerard Johnstone opens the door on the New Zealand shriekfest
By Richard Whittaker,
12:36PM, Tue. Mar. 11, 2014
If you were a self-respecting specter, would you really want to be busted by someone like TV's Ghosthunters? According to Housebound director Gerard Johnstone, "There's something incredibly funny about people who diagnose spiritual infestations like they're fixing a dishwasher."
In his new horror-comedy, which got its world premiere at SXSW last night, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) is on the receiving end of the most horrific sentencing the New Zealand justice system can deliver. After a bank robbery gone wrong, she is forced to move in with her doting but bumbling mum (Rima Te Wiata) and endure visits from her inept parole officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru.) Yet it seems there's something else in the house, something sinister and haunting. The real pisser that, whatever it is, Kylie can't get away because of the ankle monitor. Worst of all, everyone around her thinks that having a potentially malevolent spirit around is just fantastic.
Austin Chronicle: The script turns an old trope on its head. In classic supernatural horror, it takes Lucifer waltzing in a "I hate heaven" shirt before anyone realizes what's happening. But here the joke is that everyone's seen so many Ghosthunters-style shows they automatically presume it's the occult. Are you a fan of the genre, even if it's in a 'morbid curiosity' way?
Gerard Johnstone: Absolutely. I've always been fascinated with horror movies, but my background is in TV comedy so I hadn't really thought about making a horror movie until I caught Ghosthunters on TV. That was the jumping off-point for the story, but along the way I became more influenced by classic ghost mysteries like The Changeling and The Legend of Hellhouse. It was very important that we had a decent plot and some genuine frights as well as a high gag-rate.
AC Sealed bottle horrors have their own challenges, but the location often helps shape the story. What's the story behind the house?
GJ: We knew that the house would be one of the most important characters in the film, but our budget made it difficult to get the perfect location. For the longest time I thought writing a horror movie set in a house without knowing what that house would look like was the dumbest idea I've ever had. Our producer Luke Sharpe actually had three great houses lined up, but they all fell through due to money or insurance concerns. In the end, we got lucky, but we only had half the film in the can at the end of the shooting schedule and somehow our paltry location fee afforded the home owners the opportunity to make renovations they'd been waiting 10 years to make, which made pick ups increasingly difficult.
AC: Housebound makes it hard to decide who's worse: The people you live with, or your neighbors. Were there any 'suburban hell' stories that particularly influenced you?
GJ: I love my family dearly, but we drive each other nuts. I think it's the same for a lot of families. I wanted the supernatural stuff to be an additional layer on top of a story about a dysfunctional family forced to connect with each other by way of some fairly extreme circumstances. The neighbor from hell was influenced by more reality television though, thankfully not personal experience.
AC Morgana O'Reilly brings this toughness to the character of Kylie: In fact, at the beginning, she's pretty obnoxious and unlikable. She's almost like an overgrown teenager, stomping around going "Idonwanna" at her mum. Was the idea always in the script to deal with this delayed adolescence, and how much did she help shape that?GJ: I do have a soft spot for miserable, narcissistic types. I guess it's that thing of writing about what you know. Kylie does push the boundaries of anti-heroism and many people have commented that she's not an easy person to like, including Morgana, but I think once you look at Miriam, you feel some empathy and get a sense of what drove her to darkness. The delayed adolescence was definitely in there early on. If you spend long enough living with your parents, you do tend to revert back to those roles whether you want to or not. But the main reason for a character like Kylie, is that I wanted the protagonist to be someone that wouldn't scare easily. That way, when she does finally fall victim to fear, it's much more palpable. Thankfully Morgana looks a little bit like a young gypsy-witch nursing a hangover but she's also incredible at playing scared.
Her frustration and fear is really counterbalanced by Rima Te Wiata and Glen-Paul Waru carrying the comic side; Did that divide make it a little easier to balance the horror and the comedy?
The balance between funny and scary wasn't something I was particularly conscious of until I realized I'd mostly got it wrong. I spent a lot of time in pick ups trying to make the film scarier. It's hard to create suspense when a script is all sight gags and snappy comebacks. Having said that, I did make a concerted effort to make sure GP fell over as much as possible. Outside of a well-timed fart, there's no simpler pleasure than watching a large man lose his balance.
AC: New Zealand horror cinema has a reputation for a gloriously sick and weird sense of humor (I've heard the term splatstick used.) Is that something inherent, or is that just what gets distribution in the US?
GJ: I'm less into the blood and guts stuff now that I'm a parent, but Peter Jackson has definitely been a big influence on any New Zealander that wants to make films for an audience. I don't think NZ directors see themselves as being part of any cultural aesthetic though, I'm pretty sure we're all trying to look like Roman Polanski but due to the low budget, it still ends up looking like Bad Taste.
Visions, World Premiere
Tuesday, March 11, 4:30pm, Alamo Slaughter
Thursday, March 13, 9:45pm, Rollins
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South by Southwest, Midnighters, SXSW, SXSW Film 2014, SXSW 2014, Visions, Housebound