Often, when a film seeks to occupy the territory between genres it loses the best elements of both. However, a beautiful match is struck with the New Zealand film Housebound, which even Sir Peter Jackson called "Bloody brilliant."
Much as the title suggests, the story circles around Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly), a young woman who is sent back to her mother's house to serve eight months of house arrest. The house is on a not-too-oft traveled road, the internet is dial-up, and the TV screen is mostly lit by infomercials and Antiques Roadshow. The director cultivates an air of claustrophobia and restlessness from the very beginning, so that once weird occurrences start piling up it's no surprise that Kylie quickly becomes lost in trying to discover what is going on—and the rest of us are just along for the ride.
Horror-comedy as a subgenre has been historically difficult to perfect. In an attempt to straddle a fine line, the laughs and the scares alike often suffer under the weight of the necessity to fit both in. When a movie comes along that is able to seamlessly accommodate the two (think Scream or Cabin in the Woods) audiences are likely to love it. This indie horror film hops effortlessly from belly laughs to goosebump inducing chills in a manner that is deeply satisfying to watch. Much of this comedy comes from Kylie's mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), whose total obliviousness is both endearing and hilarious. In one of her first scenes, she is observing as her daughter is fitted with her mandatory tracking anklet, "Gosh that's high tech, isn't it? Aren't you lucky, Kylie, having all that fancy technology on your foot?" The two actresses enjoy a natural chemistry, and are surrounded by an equally quirky cast of characters such as the security tech, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who monitors Kylie's anklet, and is an amateur paranormal investigator. Apart from the cast, the setting and pacing of the movie really build anxiety so that the jump scares are sure to catch you, and the mystery will keep you guessing until the very end.
Housebound made a splash at Sundance this year and it's easy to see why. This first film by writer/director Gerard Johnstone shows promise in its awareness of common tropes and playful eye. Released in select theaters on October 17th in the states, Housebound is also available on VOD.