2014, NR, 109 min. Directed by Gerard Johnstone. Starring Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper.

REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Oct. 17, 2014

A good horror/comedy film is a delicate thing to pull off. It’s a difficult hybrid, tickling the funny bone one moment, reaching for the jugular the next. But if there is a country that has consistently blended the two together in hilariously horrifying ways, it is New Zealand. From the early works of Peter Jackson (Dead Alive, The Frighteners), and Jonathan King’s Black Sheep, to the (fingers crossed) soon-to-be-released What We Do in the Shadows, the Kiwis’ deftness at handling the balance between primal fear and droll comedy indicates some strangely wonderful convergence of cultural, behavioral, psychological (geographical?) factors at work. The latest export, Gerard Johnstone’s feature debut Housebound, continues this tradition with marvelous aplomb.

Ostensibly a haunted-house story, Housebound opens with troubled Kylie (O’Reilly) botching an ATM smash-and-grab and subsequently being remanded to her childhood home on house arrest, ankle bracelet and all. In Kylie’s resentful eyes, this is a fate worse than death, for awaiting her there is her mother, Miriam (Te Wiata), an insufferable busybody who thinks that there are unhappy spirits living in the house. Kylie couldn’t care less, and starts settling in to eight months of drinking beer and watching TV. When things indeed start to go bump in the night and Kylie begins uncovering some dangerous secrets, the narrative turns crimson with tales of long-ago murders and nefarious maniacs.

Housebound nimbly jumps through the hoops of horror tropes, inventively subverting them along the way. The fact that it sticks the landing is a testament to Johnstone’s solid script and direction. Rima Te Wiatu and Morgana O’Reilly are perfect as a mother and daughter who can’t help but passive-aggressively push each other’s buttons as shit is hitting the fan, and the intrepid use of household items as weapons is inspired (cheese grater: just sayin’). The score is suitably ominous with the requisite screeching strings and plinking piano, and the cinematography recalls early Sam Raimi. Whatever’s in the water in New Zealand, by all means, keep drinking it.

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Housebound, Gerard Johnstone, Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Ross Harper

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