Housebound's set-up will remind you of Disturbia right away. A teen deliquent Kylie (non-teen Morgan O'Reilly) is slapped with an ankle bracelet and has to while away the hours solving a neighborhood mystery. Beyond that setup, the movie zigs right when you think it's going to zag, and any reminders of Disturbia are obliterated by one of the freshest New Zealand imports since Peter Jackson was making his own spookshows.
Kylie overhears her mother (scene-stealer Rima Te Wiata) confessing to a radio call-in show that she hears strange noises in the house. She's even caught a glimpse of a ghostly figure in tattered white cloth. Maybe it was her imagination? Maybe she knows more than she's letting on? Kylie is skeptical until the moment a desiccated hand reaches for her ankle bracelet from a crack in the family basement. Then, we're off -- Housebound's corkscrew mystery sprints from revelation to revelation with such enthusiasm and comedic energy, you just sit there grinning like a big dummy, even through its shocks.
She gains an unlikely ally in Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), an amateur ghosthunter from her block who just happens to work for the security company that monitors Kylie's house arrest. Kylie's working against her own piss-poor reputation as an attention-seeking hoodlum; she has a really difficult time getting anyone to listen to her. The audience can clearly see that there's something crazy going on, so Kylie gains our sympathy early even if she is a snarling wreck.
Morgan O'Reilly is a terrific lead with superb comic timing and fiercely intelligent eyes. She has the magnetism of a movie star, and in a perfect world, Housebound would make her one. It will almost certainly put writer-director Gerard Johnstone on the map. It's a remarkably assured first feature, one that balances tonal shifts and just keeps things moving at all times. There's no fat on Housebound, and nothing is tried that doesn't flat-out work. It's got the same level of confidence we've seen from the recent breakout genre rookies like Joe Cornish or Gareth Edwards.
This is more of a mystery than a horror show (though it has its moments), so be careful how deep you dig if you want to know more about the film. Johnstone seems to be actively avoiding genre cliches, then preying upon audience expectations of those cliches for maximum effect. Housebound is sneaky like that. Heck, I'm ready to see it again as soon as possible. If you don't catch it on the festival circuit, remember its name for later. Chances are, you have a new favorite horror film of 2014 on the way.
Need further proof? Check out the film's poster and a clip below: