Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.
I don’t know about you, but I have zero desire to return to the confinement of youth. Living at home with your parents sucks quite hard even in the best of circumstances. I was a homeless teenager before leaving the familiarity of South Carolina for the alien wilds of Albuquerque when I was barely 18 years old, so to say I’m big on freedom of movement would be something of an understatement.
Throw in a bit of trauma (and who doesn’t have some trauma, really?), and home can easily become a prison so uniquely personal that it becomes a literal Hell. For Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly), this is the exact situation she finds herself in after being caught robbing an ATM with explosives. Sentenced to house arrest and fitted with an ankle monitor, the already seasoned thief spends her days aimless and angry in the childhood home she always believed was haunted. To make matters even worse, she’s kept company by her prattling, oddball mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) and her milksop stepfather, Graeme (Ross Harper). They’re not alone, though—something (or someone) is inhabiting the home, and this personal prison is getting a bit crowded. Then the house’s dark history is revealed, and Kylie is forced to start giving a damn about her family if she wants to make it out alive.
Comedy and horror are uneasy bedfellows. When the chemistry is there and the absurdity is dialed in just so, something magical happens and you get a masterwork like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Cabin in the Woods, or Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive. And, yes…you’d better believe that I mention New Zealand’s favorite son for a reason. Housebound continues the tradition of Kiwi horror-comedies that know how to bring it on the horror side while making you laugh at the madcap speed that everything devolves with. I think there’s something in the water down there.
Housebound gives you a lead in Kylie, who’s someone we all know (or maybe even were at one time). She’s a child whose real dad up and disappeared (I get that). She’s too smart for her own good, but her nasty attitude and anger issues twist those smarts into serious trouble (I get that, too). She’s highly resentful and blames her mother, with some good reason (I get that 1000%).
Morgana O’Reilly is so good at being straight and intense that it makes the absurdity of a situation like a deadly fight with a psycho using non-lethal household utensils all the more effective. In that way, Housebound feels like one of the classic Abbott and Costello Meet… films. It has that signature New Zealand flavor with a classic Hollywood comedic structure that’s tried and true. Rima Te Wiata is the other half of that classic comedic formula, and she’s a straight-up riot with sneaky good timing. Leaving Ross Harper’s befuddled father figure for the more poignant moments with Kylie is where the heart comes through.
Home Is Where The Heart Is
That heart is important. There’s more going on here than supernatural chicanery, hidden madness, and weirdos in the walls; there’s truth. While the scenario and the stakes verge on outright silliness in Housebound, the desire to escape the things that have damaged us is a universal truth. You understand Kylie’s rage, you feel the walls closing in around her. The scene where Kylie (in a moment of human tenderness) decides to help Graeme and ends up waiting for the glue to set is sublime. It’s low-key uncomfortable to watch and funny in that “laughing on the inside” kind of way because it hits you in a bit of a personal place. Have you ever been stuck with people you love but have nothing to say to? Of course, you have. We all have.
The house isn’t just a prison for Kylie, though. Miriam lives under the weight of what she believes are evil spirits in the house while being burdened by the knowledge of the house’s true history. Graeme is bound right alongside her by marriage and complacency. And then there’s Eugene to consider, who’s more of a prisoner than the mechanical savant/idiot manchild living in the walls? Of all the people in the Bucknell household, Eugene has the least to look forward to in the outside world.
The layers of relatable truth in the midst of the sheer absurdity of the situations in Housebound give it a surprising depth and heart, and the comedy is throwback spiced up with some Kiwi. The glue in the spine, however, is the combination of setting and sound design. That house is a character unto itself with enough gaudy wallpaper, water stains, dark shadows, and creepy knickknacks to have you almost smelling the mustiness. The sound design is a plethora of crashes, bangs, and noises in the walls that work with and not against the score.
It’s going to sound a little creepy, but I’m just going to come out and say it: Housebound has what may be my favorite pissing scene in any movie (stop looking at me like that). The use of sound and the way they play with the volume levels—pee, noise, pause, shrug, pee, noise, pause, concern—is legit comical when paired with Kylie’s facial expressions. It’s good old-fashioned juvenile fun that’s not too cheap but instead is just cheap enough.
Housebound isn’t the unadulterated gorefest that Dead Alive is by any stretch of the imagination, but it does have one of the best creepy dolls this side of Chucky and a piece de resistance SFX with an electric roasting fork stab beneath the chin that results in a simply wonderful head explosion. It’s really a case of less is more on the splashiness of the horror and instead lets the atmosphere strike its deft balance with the batsh*t craziness of the physical comedy and the tongue-in-cheek whodunnit subplot.
Ultimately, Housebound is about that place where they have to take you in and how awful it can often be. It’s a horror film where the real horror is being trapped with the people who drive you crazy and knowing that, in the end, home is the place with the strongest gravitational pull.