HOUSEBOUND opens as Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) and her partner are caught during a smash and grab apparently planned by Larry, Moe or Curly. It sets the tone for the movie: bitterly funny with great emotional depth. For her role in the crime, she is sentenced to a surprisingly lenient eight months of house arrest with dear old mum and dad.
Immediately after the sentencing, we are introduced to a major character in any properly done haunted house movie: the house. The House of Bucknell is set back from the road, surrounded by overgrown trees and bushes. It has the feel of an estate far from its best years – clearly too large for a couple with a grown daughter – but still loved. The house is full of creaking wood floors and stairs which lead to isolated rooms. As far as haunted houses go, it’s full of lovely detail, rich with technology from the last century, creepy neighbors to the right of it, and a stone basement full of goodies which imply a mysterious past.
“It was really a love letter to my mother. It was about addressing the frustrating disconnect that exists between families and suggesting that perhaps all we need is a good ghost mystery to bring us together.” – Gerard Johnstone, Director/Writer of HOUSEBOUND (Quote from an interview in Screen Anarchy: http://screenanarchy.com/2014/10/five-questions-for-housebound-director-gerard-johnstone.html#ixzz4EPmZLR1Q )
We talk about movies being love letters to this or that, because that’s what they are: Confessions of passion. How could they be anything else? Gerard Johnstone took $250,000 and three years of his life to pull this work from his head and judo flip it into something digestible on celluloid. Only passion sees that through. Or sheer stubbornness. But then, that’s the same for relationships and love letters.
For my money, the essential element to a truly great horror comedy is attention to character. Gags, wit, and clever references are entertaining, but it’s real characters impacted and changed by the events of the story that allow us to invest in what we are seeing. And while HOUSEBOUND has a veritable Scooby Gang of characters for this mystery, they come off as genuine and are meaningfully impacted by the events of the movie.
It’s easy to overlook Kylie as a grown-up brat and the setup as something all too common these days: moving back in with your parents. But HOUSEBOUND is a surprisingly meaty exploration of character and communication – how the failure to communicate can drive families apart and thwart even the best of intentions. Kylie’s step dad Graeme (Ross Harper) is a man who clearly loves passionately and strives to mend anything he knows how, but is unable to find the necessary words. Her mom Miriam (Rima Te Wiata, who you’ll want to see in HUNT FOR THE WILDER PEOPLE) is so ready to share her thoughts, but can’t find a bridge to Kylie’s world. And, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) – Kylie’s probation officer – has a career defined by knowing and enforcing boundaries but spends his personal time researching the fantastical and unknown. He’s ready to believe you, but he is also terrified of actually venturing into risky territory.
All of these characters are layered onto one heck of a ghost mystery. Johnstone has a good eye for his film and a solid mind for building tension, comedic or scares. He does wonders with an unholy Not-A-Teddy-Ruxpin! Offhand, KRAMPUS and HOUSEBOUND come to mind for best use of stuffed animals. And there’s some BRAINDEAD homage paid with the creative use of household appliances and tools. More than that, it’s obvious Johnstone knows his genre as there’s plenty of references for a film nerd to be on the look-out for.
Come out for the best gosh darned Human versus Teddy Bear fight you ever saw onscreen and stay for the attempt to bring this patchwork family back together. Will they make amends? Will they restore balance to the House of Bucknell? Will you learn the proper use for a cheese grater? And, not for nothing, Johnstone is an initiate in the greatness of all things Alamo Drafthouse, having sung their praises after a screening of HOUSEBOUND at SXSW.
IF CLASSY WERE AN ANTHROPOMORPHIZED ARCHETYPE, WILLIAM DASS WOULD BE ITS LEX LUTHOR. WILLIAM IS ALWAYS AROUND ON TWITTER @WBDASS