I stepped into the opening night of Toronto After Dark less than thrilled. These were not my people. They were my people, but then I fell in love with music, bought new clothes and washed the horror geek away. The intentionally B-grade genre fare just doesn’t do it for me anymore. I’m burnt out and have become the worst thing a reviewer can be, completely and entirely jaded. Housebound changed all of that. Okay, so I’m still a cynical asshole, but god damn it I love this movie.
Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is a repeat would-be criminal; the getaway never quite seems to go her way, placed under house arrest in her childhood home after an amusing botched robbery. Mostly consumed with irritation at having to dwell in the same domain as her aloof and endlessly chatty mother and her walking dead man of a silent stepfather; there’s a gnawing feeling from the past that Kylie is looking to avoid the house for more dreaded reasons as well. Kylie’s mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata) believes whole-heartedly the house is haunted but seems rather unworried by it. It serves as another charming source of gossip for her, which in turn provides another eye roll inducing annoyance for Kylie. Kylie’s obvious denial of the house’s supernatural aspect crumbles as bumps in the night and flickering lights quickly escalate to demonic teddy bears and ghostly grabs and assaults. Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) a security officer tasked with the headache of ensuring Kylie stays under house arrest takes an active interest in the mysteries of the house and dons an earnest ghostbusting attitude as the trio works to determine the source of the haunting. As the house’s past is revealed what they discover brings them dangerously close to solving a brutal murder whose culprit has remained unknown for fifteen years.
The first aspect that leapt out at me about Housebound was the truly incredible way sound is utilized and the embracement of its genre mashup. The score is so intertwined with the sound effects that it elevates the scares, builds the tension and delivers genuine laughs in an expertly crafted manner. From grating mouth breathing at the hands of her court appointed psychiatrist, a spastically interrupted pee break hilariously punctuated with eerie silence and the actual slams and shakes of the supernatural we feel fully engulfed in Kylie’s experience. Director Gerard Johnstone in his feature film debut is fearless with his willingness to delve in headfirst and blend the comedic and frightening elements. A large majority of the jump scares have an end result of relieved laughter. Moody sequences wrought with tension that you’d normally view with eyes nervously peering through clenched fingers instead force you to watch intently hoping not to miss the next gag.
A hearty round of applause needs to be had for O’Reilly as Kylie, sadly (with notable exceptions) there seems to be only a few kinds of females in the horror genre. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the slut and the virgin, but there’s also the bad girl who rarely contains any more depth than the first two. Kylie could have easily fallen into the same fate, a rebellious and brooding girl who seems to always have something snarky to say. However O’Reilly delivers a wholly rounded performance as she can convincingly alternate between badass and vulnerable. One moment caught up in the rush of excitement, which in turn reveals her quick wits and abilities could have been better utilized outside of crime. The next a prodding into the past reveals an intimate look into the girl she struggles to keep below the surface: childhood kick knacks, absent fathers and the world’s worst psych give Kylie substance and deeper motivation. Kylie seems to harbor an unnecessarily strong disdain for her admittedly annoying mother and anything associated from a childhood she seems intent on running from, spooks and spirits included. O’Reilly has brought to life one of horror’s greatest new heroines. Not an emotionless ass kicker immune to startles or pain, nor a frightened little girl with a rotten attitude. Kylie can be resourceful and borderline fearless (no way in hell I would have set foot in that basement), but also relatable with a vulnerability simmering at the surface and no shortage of flaws or shortcomings. What makes Kylie most likable is how she shares in the rollercoaster ride that is Housebound with the audience. Her face instantaneously flips from sheer terror to proper annoyance as false alarms and fake outs fall all around her.
Ultimately Housebound is about the relationship between Kylie and her mother seen through the eyes of a creeping observer. The two struggle to remain in the same house together even if it wasn’t haunted. Their differences clash and collide with an unavoidable team up as the rapid conclusion races to a brilliant and exhilarating ending. There are no tears, no apologies or even the sappy promise of change. But when shit goes down there’s an abrupt acknowledgment of each other’s shortcomings, and an unspoken acceptance. With a plot that keeps you guessing in suspense and remains entertaining instead of losing you along its twisted path, Housebound is through and through one of the best films of the year no matter what genre you want to call it.