Reviewed by Dustin Putman
(Release Date: November 18, 2014) "Housebound" is a quirky, New Zealand-born concoction that traverses tones as rapidly as it offers up red herrings. "The Burbs," "Disturbia" and the classic 1959 William Castle chiller "House on Haunted Hill" all appear to be inspiration for a black and bloody horror-comedy that constantly plays with its audience's expectations. Debuting writer-director Gerard Johnstone displays a firm understanding of how to juggle humor and scares without compromising either. As effective as his film is as it shifts its trajectory every twenty minutes or so, where it ultimately leads dulls a bit of its "bump-in-the-night" mystique.
When Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O'Reilly) is arrested for attempted theft and ordered to serve eight months of home detention at mom Miriam's (Rime Te Wiata) house, her rebellious, disrespectful attitude puts an instant strain on this mother-daughter pair's already contentious relationship. Overhearing Miriam's call to a late-night radio show to speak about her belief that her residence is haunted, Kylie is skeptical at best. Despite having her own strange experiences as a child, she sees them now as nothing more than the result of an overactive imaginationthat is, until they happen again. Unable to explain away what has occurred, she convinces nice-guy security officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru) to help her investigate the history of the house and a suspicious neighbor who might be connected to the murders committed there years earlier.
Considering how unpleasant Kylie is as a heroine in the first act, she becomes surprisingly palatable by the film's second half. Explanations as to why she is such an angry person are minimalby comparison, her mom (a delightful Rima Te Wiata) is a generally upbeat and cheerful ladybut the deeper she delves into the mysteries of her childhood abode, the less guarded she becomes. At least one basement-set sequence is worthy of a major jolt and two top-notch frights, while another involving an electronic stuffed bear is suitably unsettling. A few twists and turns are unanticipated, but when all questions are answered its supernaturally tinged oddness feels more like an exercise in manipulation rather than that of an enduring, fully developed story. "Housebound" is unusual and charming in a literally down-home way, but writer-director Johnstone's loopy script barely pierces the surface of its promising cast of players and their upside-down world.
Shot digitally, "Housebound" is a visually dark film, but one that XLrator Media's 1080p transfer carries out with resourceful aplomb. Some shots are softer than others and lack the finest of details, but the bulk of the feature impresses with a clear, sharply edged image. Daytime scenes and outdoor establishing shots and aerial footage are moodily gorgeous, while the nighttime breeds inky blacks and lush contrast. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is simply terrific, an immersive aural presentation with rapt, unexpectedly intricate surrounds that contribute to the creep factor. The music score, dialogue and sound effects all work as a unit in a sound mix good enough to put the viewer on edge, just as they should.
- Audio Commentary with writer-director Gerard Johnstone, producer Luke Sharpe and executive producer Ant Timpson
- Deleted Scenes (3:59, HD)
- Trailer (1:36, HD)
XLrator Media's Blu-ray of "Housebound" is close to top-notch, boasting commendable A/V specs and a spirited audio commentary that entertainingly informs about the genesis and making of the project. The film has garnered a passionate group of fans despite its limited theatrical distribution, and is sure to earn many more now that it is readily available on home video. Short of the big screen, this Blu-ray is undoubtedly the best way to see it, and comes recommended.