NZ | 2014 | Directed by Gerard Johnstone

Logline: A young troublemaker is given home detention, forced to spend time with her estranged mother, and discovers very strange goings-on within the walls of the house. 

It’s one thing to embark on a labour-of-love, low-budget debut feature, it’s quite another to spend four years working on it, finally have it completed, and it's watched by fellow Kiwi Peter Jackson, who raves about it. Talk about career sorted! Gerard Johnstone is a genuine talent with an impressively well-earned notch on his new belt.

In the movie’s prologue meth-head Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) and her partner-in-crime attempt to rob an isolated ATM in the dead of night. It goes pear-shaped quickly. She ends up with an electronic ankle bracelet and is confined to her mother Miriam (Rimi Ti Waita)’s property for an eight-month sentence. She’s not happy. But mum is. Until Kylie falls back into her old abusive, obnoxious behaviour, but Miriam’s wallflower partner Graeme (Ross Harper) is about as much use as a spare prick at a wedding, and counselor Dennis (Cameron Rhodes) only seems to antagonise her.

Superstitious Miriam believes the old house is haunted. Certainly the creaks, groans, and bumps in the middle of the night would suggest so. Kylie is not convinced. After discovering foul play has stained the home, she’s determined to prove there’s no ghost, only an evil neighbour. Initially, her probation officer-cum-paranormal enthusiast, Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), thinks otherwise.

Housebound sports a great script, bursting with hilarious characters spouting cracking dialogue. The casting is bang on; O’Reilly, who will be familiar to Neighbours fans, oozes screen charisma, and she nails the surly bitch attitude with aplomb (keep on eye on her, she’ll be real big soon enough), while veteran actors Ti Waita and Rhodes deliver superb support, at times stealing the scene. Waru’s buffoon is another comic delight.

The Kiwi comedy is a distinct sense of humour, and Housebound wriggles and writhes in it like a pig in mud. But most importantly, for the most part, it balances the tone between the comedy and the horror just right. Yes, the movie is a bit long, but the murder mystery reveal and most of the horror shenanigans all occurs in the last twenty minutes, the pacing has been spot on for the rest of the flick.

Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead set the comedy-horror bar very high ten years ago. Few movies have come anywhere close. But there are a couple of antipodean contenders currently in the ring.