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Dustin Putman

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Housebound  (2014)
2 Stars
Directed by Gerard Johnstone.
Cast: Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Cameron Rhodes, Millen Baird, Ross Harper, Ryan Lampp, Wallace Chapman, Ian Mune, David Van Horn, Bruce Hopkins.
2014 – 111 minutes
Not Rated (equivalent of an R for strong violence and gore, and for language).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, October 13, 2014.
"Housebound" is a quirky, New Zealand-born concoction that traverses tones as rapidly as it offers up red herrings. "The Burbs," "Disturbia" and the classic 1959 William Castle chiller "House on Haunted Hill" all appear to be inspiration for a black and bloody horror-comedy that constantly plays with its audience's expectations. Debuting writer-director Gerard Johnstone displays a firm understanding of how to juggle humor and scares without compromising either. As effective as his film is as it shifts its trajectory every twenty minutes or so, where it ultimately leads dulls a bit of its "bump-in-the-night" mystique.

When Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) is arrested for attempted theft and ordered to serve eight months of home detention at mom Miriam's (Rime Te Wiata) house, her rebellious, disrespectful attitude puts an instant strain on this mother-daughter pair's already contentious relationship. Overhearing Miriam's call to a late-night radio show to speak about her belief that her residence is haunted, Kylie is skeptical at best. Despite having her own strange experiences as a child, she sees them now as nothing more than the result of an overactive imagination—that is, until they happen again. Unable to explain away what has occurred, she convinces nice-guy security officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) to help her investigate the history of the house and a suspicious neighbor who might be connected to the murders committed there years earlier.

Considering how unpleasant Kylie is as a heroine in the first act, she becomes surprisingly palatable by the film's second half. Explanations as to why she is such an angry person are minimal—by comparison, her mom (a delightful Rima Te Wiata) is a generally upbeat and cheerful lady—but the deeper she delves into the mysteries of her childhood abode, the less guarded she becomes. At least one basement-set sequence is worthy of a major jolt and two top-notch frights, while another involving an electronic stuffed bear is suitably unsettling. A few twists and turns are unanticipated, but when all questions are answered its supernaturally tinged oddness feels more like an exercise in manipulation rather than that of an enduring, fully developed story. "Housebound" is unusual and charming in a literally down-home way, but writer-director Johnstone's loopy script barely pierces the surface of its promising cast of players and their upside-down world.
© 2014 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman