Housebound gives off the scent of a film written by multiple parties who want different things, even though the screenplay was solely written by director Gerard Johnstone.
The film quickly develops an amusing dynamic between its two female leads. Kylie (Played by Morgana O’Reilly) is a criminal forced to live under house arrest with her mother Miriam (played by Rima Te Wiata). Mom would like to get along, but Kylie would rather be serving time behind bars. Especially on Coronation Street night when Miriam sheepishly asks her intimidating daughter if she can use the television. The chemistry between O’Reilly and Wiata is winning, establishing an Odd Couple approach to its crime-laden backdrop.
Then, the horror element is introduced. That works too. After the tracking bracelet is applied to Kylie’s ankle, she hears bumps in the night that don’t sound like old house noises. A haunting is brought to the forefront, and Kylie can’t escape it. At least, not for eight months – after her sentence is served. The audience is promised a restricting haunted house flick, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.
Then, the tables are turned. Instead of maintaining its creepiness and campy mother-daughter relationship, Johnstone reaches a conjuncture where he tucks away the formidable dynamic (at least, until the conclusion) and focuses on telling a very laborious murder mystery through endless detective work and raspy monologues by those who know more than Kylie.
What a disheartening switcheroo. Housebound is the one of those rare times where I would’ve happily accepted a film featuring Morgana O’Reilly running around dark hallways, hearing things crash to the ground. In the day, as an innocent person and not a crook, she would have to try and think of how to leave the house without making it look like she’s trying to break the law again. Then, when the sun goes down and branches gently scrape against pane windows, she’s trying to survive. Just a pinch of Silent Hill, if you will.
Instead, Kylie learns of spooky history with side characters that are more wooden than the house she lives in. I’m not cross with the film because it wasn’t the better movie I envisioned. Johnstone basically guarantees the audience this slice of survival horror. He’s dreaming big when the answer to success is directly under his nose. He undermines his own strengths without knowing.
Housebound has a strong opener and closer. It’s everything in between that’s a derivative disappointment.