Housebound

Wackiness smothers the potential
★★★★
☆☆
Released: 
2014
Director: 
Gerard Johnstone
Starring: 
Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata, Glen-Paul Waru, Cameron Rhodes
The Setup: 
Criminal girl sentenced to stay in her mother’s house, which may be haunted.
Discussion: 

I had never heard of this, but it boasts a 5 rating on Netflix, standing out amongst a sea of 1s and 2s. That was enough to get me to try it out, so I had the experience, pleasant with horror-comedies, of not knowing it is supposed to be funny going in. Unfortunately, the common problem with most horror-comedies is that they often have to choose between being funny or being scary. This one suffers from that conundrum, and one that goes along with it; sometimes the funny stuff gets so wacky it starts to make you feel insulted for being taken in by the scary stuff. On the plus side, however, you can definitely say that this movie does go in unexpected directions.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The credits inform us that this movie is taking place in New Zealand. The movie opens with our heroine, Kylie, and her male friend [boyfriend?] trying to rip off an ATM. Kylie tries to blow up the machine, possibly killing her boyfriend in the process, and has to drag his body back into the car to get away, but is stuck on a traffic bump, and caught. We never see or hear from the boyfriend again, and Kylie expresses no concern about him. She is revealed as a repeat offender, and instead of again sentencing her to a home, they send her back to live with her mother for 8 months. Once there, she meets Amos, her parole officer, who attaches her ankle monitor, causing her chipper, slightly overweight mom to say “Aren’t you lucky, having all that fancy technology on your foot! Quite spoiled!”

So we can see that her mother is a chipper little trooper, and we can immediately understand why she would drive Kylie insane, and so far it all seems brilliantly clever: we can understand how a mother like this could drive a girl to be a criminal, and how simply staying home is going to be a worse punishment than staying in a juvenile home. Furthermore, she is legally required to stay in that home, which may turn out to be haunted. So it all seems quite clever, and I am completely on board!

For a while Kylie does nothing but be hateful, eating everything, not cleaning, watching TV all day, not even letting her mother watch her favorite show. She hears her mother calling into a radio show, saying that she has seen unexplained things in her house, like strange noises and a figure in a white sheet. When Kylie asks her about it, quite skeptically, her mother says that she herself used to think the house was haunted when she was a child. Soon after, Kylie is down in the basement when there’s a figure in a white sheet, and when it starts to come at her, I actually jumped and yelled out! Thus far, and for a while still, the movie is quite scary! Soon a spooky teddy bear is appearing at Kylie’s bedside, saying “I just want to be friends,” and, when she stabs and bashes and throws it in the fire, hilariously says “I could never do that to my friend.”

SPOILERS > > >
Soon enough, Kylie finds out that the place wasn’t a bed and breakfast before her mom bought it, as she’s been told, but a halfway house for troubled teens, and one in particular, Lizzie Chalmers, used to live in Kylie’s room, and was stabbed 57 times there. By the way, when Kylie told parole officer Amos about the ghost, he turned out to be an amateur paranormal investigator and believes her. Now, when she gets her counselor Dennis and others to request a transfer, the lights go out, come on for a second, revealing the hooded figure, and next thing you know, Dennis is injured in a somewhat ridiculous laundry-drying-rack accident. Thing is, the whole sequence was quite scary!

Kylie tries to run away, and is intercepted by Amos, who guilts her that the ghost of Lizzie is trying to communicate with her, but she’s running away. Kylie goes down into the basement and says “Okay Lizzie, you got something to say to me, fucking say it.” There are a bunch of noises, then she is led to a pipe, which is revealed as having a dental plate inside it. Now, I haven’t mentioned the creepy guy next door, but Kylie tells Amos that he also has dentures, so he obviously killed Lizzie, and all she needs to do is break in and get his dental plate to prove it. During a fairly suspenseful sequence, Amos waits outside while she goes in. Soon she finds the creepy guy sleeping, and tries to pull his dentures right out of his mouth. He wakes, she runs, Amos runs, but get caught in a serious animal trap that snaps on his foot. She pulls a car top over him and runs into her house, pursued by the creepathon. She hides in a closet, armed with some garden shears, and when the door is opened—accidentally stabs Graeme, her mother’s boyfriend.

Kylie waits with Graeme in the hospital—and how is she able to avoid parole problems by being away from home? It was one thing when Amos was with her, but even he said he could only make excuses for thirty minutes at the most. The next day, Kylie does laundry and cleans the house now… you see, suddenly she’s responsible! By the way… where is Amos? Is he still trapped under the car roof next door?

Oh no. I guess he got out, and he is uninjured [iron traps are just so much inconvenience] and how he breaks into the creepy guy’s house, but is soon discovered. The creepy fellow tells him that he didn’t kill the girl, but that he used to have care of a severely autistic boy who was an excellent amateur engineer, and lived in the crawlspace underneath his house, until they had a big fight, when he moved next door. Meanwhile, Kylie finds a fully-furnished crawlspace hidden in the house, and goes in. It’s all quite suspenseful as she creeps around, then finally sees this feral-looking guy inside. He sees her, and after a long chase, she escapes. Well, that was a surprise! So now wait a minute—there’s no ghost?

Around now is when you might notice that there’s about forty minutes of this film left, and say to yourself “Gosh, that’s a lot. And what all is going to happen? It really seemed like it was starting to wrap up. And frankly, we’re starting to have enough twists and complications for ten movies.” Which may be the first sign of trouble, and indeed, around here is when the potential and quality of this film starts slowly deflating.

Kylie goes to the police, and gets them to come to the house. They think she has multiple personalities, and when she breaks down the wall to see the crawlspace, there’s no crawlspace there. Dennis, the counselor, returns, and soon Kylie realizes that he has a dental plate. She goes through the records, and finds that he was in the house when it was a halfway house, and indeed worked with Lizzie. After a bit of suspense, it is soon revealed that Dennis is indeed the killer, and we start into a very long [a way too long] climax.

It begins with comedic bits as they fight off Dennis, such as putting a laundry basket on his head, or a bit involving a corkscrew, and dialogue like Dennis saying “Anyone who says there’s no such thing as a bad egg obviously hasn’t worked in social services.” They spend some time in the crawlspace with the feral guy there, who is named Eugene, and who, in a nice touch, has been drawing Kylie since she was a small girl. There’s a tremendously protracted final struggle, with Dennis, overweight, schlubby Dennis, suddenly turning into a Michael Myers-type indestructible killer who survives falls of several stories and such before he’s finally killed. There’s a last epilogue that shows us that Kylie is now living with her Mom and Graeme [who is FINE!] in harmony, and they’ve all gotten used to having Eugene living in the walls, and they’re just one big, happy, fucked-up family.
< < < SPOILERS END

For something that started out so strong, I was very disappointed in it by the end. I like a good horror-comedy, but they have to strike a fine balance, and here, it just fell too hard on the comedy side. But the thing is… it did it in such a way that made me feel like a chump for getting caught up in the serious, scary parts of the first half. The first half is very clever, and has some very good scares—including one that made me jump out of my skin! But note that it leads you down one direction, and then that turns out to be nothing, then leads you in a different direction, and THAT turns out to be… not what it’s made out to be, and the actual truth is something rather pedestrian, while at the same time way too convoluted and wacky. And it all starts getting SO kooky that it started making me feel like a fool for getting so involved in the scary parts of the story. And also disappointed, because I wanted a scary movie, and was getting into how very scary it was. It reminded me of the early Peter Jackson spatter comedies, which I also didn’t like, and found almost insultingly silly. So maybe it’s a New Zealand thing? It does seem to have a similar sensibility.

Still, definitely worth watching, genuinely goes in unexpected directions, is funny and surprising, and is quite skillfully made. And many people find it delightful, and aren’t annoyed by some of its turns. So I have to say go for it, even though I was a little narked by how it ended up.

Should you watch it: 

Yerp.

Comments

Just the other day I watched this film I really recommend you, What We Do in the Shadows, a mock documentary about a gang of vampires who live in a shared apartment, in present day NZ. Actually this isnt really horror but a straight, rather black, comedy, and the funny and fascinatimg thing is that they treat vampires as an actual thing (the film is even apparently funded by the "New Zealand documentary board"), and they explore how their myth clashes and needs to adapt to the real, present world, such as the vampire learning to use the internet, paying a flat, needing to be invited in order to get into clubs, wearing ridiculous old fashioned clothes and thinking they're cool and fascinating just by virtue of being vampires ("we vampires are very handsome", proudly says one who looks particularly messy and ill)... It doesn't really have a plot, and apparently the actors improvised all the dialogue, but they are so charming and spot on it's a pleasure to just watch them do things, even if it does drag a bit towards the end.

It was at a theater here and I watched the trailer and the improvisational nature and all was a juuuuuuust under enough to motivate me to go see it in the theater, but I'll definitely look for it to come around via other means... Thanks for the recommendation!

I wanted to like this one so bad when I first heard of it a few months back, and like you Scott I didn't know it was intended to be funny. I understood the tone early one and I was also reminded of Peter Jackson's early comedies (which I enjoy myself) along with "The Frighteners" (also Jackson, I know) but this one just fell flat for me in the end. Overstuffed and schizophrenic, I got frustrated along the way and stopped caring. I can also say I haven't detested a movie's main character as much as this one in a long, long time.

Good, I was sort of feeling like it's the kind of thing maybe everyone else loved, and I was just being a spoil-sport. And YES, the main character was VERY annoying [especially the wat she treated her mother], but I got over it as she started to change throughout the film. I don;t mind the humor, but the director obviously has such a talent for scares I would like to see him do a straight-up scary film. Thanks, Julian.

I love it when you review Netflix movies! Had it on my queue for a long time -will finally watch it!