After a failed attempt to steal from an ATM Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest and made to return to the family home she has been desperately trying to get away from. Kylie’s well-intentioned mother, Miriam (Rima Te Wiata), makes her punishment even more unbearable with her inane gossip, patronising attempts at guidance and ramblings of hauntings that she believes have been happening in the house. After brushing this off as superstition Kylie is confronted by a series of strange events that lead her to the possibility that her mother may not be mad after all.

Directed by Gerard Johnstone, it is rare to find a horror-comedy that delivers on both fronts but this New Zealand feature and directorial debut is a brilliant mash-up that makes you believe you’re arbitrarily moving back and forth from two very promising films. Housebound starts off pacing itself but develops into something far more exhilarating and atmospheric, thanks to its unpredictable twists, gruesome gore and slapstick comedy.

Housebound owes a lot of its comedic value to the enthralling performance of Morgana O’Reilly, which emphatically counters the generic treatment of women in peril that we are burdened with in Hollywood cinema. Defending her home by unnecessarily beating down Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), verbally mistreating her councillor when she is accused of not separating reality and fantasy, and unconventionally employing a cheese grater as a weapon are among the variety of O’Reilly’s slapstick contributions. These add to the climactic mayhem of Housebound while also challenging counterproductive and sexist gender roles that are consistently presented within mainstream cinema. 

Housebound is in essence a series of suspense and scares that are almost always followed by hilarity. Johnstone has done a sublime and successful job of creating a hysterical atmosphere by placing an unlikely group of misfits into a grisly situation. There is the pugnacious Kylie, with a serious attitude problem, the frivolous Miriam and the self-proclaimed spiritual know-it-all, Amos (who is just a little bit useless), together finding themselves in the middle of a harrowing mystery.