The Horror. The Horror. Round 9: Housebound

housebound posterTonight I have the pleasure of introducing you to the best movie to come out of New Zealand since the Lord of the Rings trilogy. (In this house we do not speak of that bloated abomination that stole The Hobbit’s good name. Poor Martin Freeman.) It’s a little gem called Housebound. I’d never heard of this movie until I was perusing the internet’s multifarious offerings of “Best Horror Movies Streaming on Netflix” lists, on which it popped up more often than not. It deserves so much better.

I can’t summarize this movie without spoiling what makes it so good. I can only offer a taste. Housebound opens with a hilariously botched attempt by two thieves to break into an ATM. One of them, Kylie, is our protagonist, a young woman with issues; we learn that the ATM fiasco isn’t her first rodeo, crime-wise. Rejecting the usual diversion programs as having been, shall we way, ineffectual, the judge sentences Kylie to eight months of house arrest . . . in her childhood home . . . with the mother and stepdad she can’t stand.

And oh, by the way, her mother has always been convinced the house is haunted, much to Kylie’s irritation. Of course, no sooner is Kylie delivered to her mom’s house and ankle-braceleted than she begins to hear strange noises. And off we go. That’s as much as I can tell you other than Watch this movie tonight.

Occasionally I’ll read or see something with just that right mix of clever dialogue, unconventional plotting, and unexpected humanity and think, “Damn, I wish I had written that.” In Bruges is one cinematic example. An even better one is The Host. . . . No, not the one based on the other book written by the Twilight woman. I’m talking about the Korean family comedy/monster movie. The Host is bloody brilliant. And in much the same way, so is Housebound. Both work strongly as horror movies, with their share of scares and chills. But at heart, both are comedies about dysfunctional families.

housebound unhappy
We’ve all made that face upon returning to the ol’ homestead.

I’m a big fan of comedic horror movies. Most, like Tucker and Dale vs. Evil and Zombeavers, find their humor in riffing specifically on the tropes of horror. That’s all well and good. But Housebound (and again, The Host) excels in that it works on two parallel tracks: strip out the comedic elements and it would work as a straight-up ghost story. Alternately, remove the horror and you’ve got a funny, affecting story of a daughter coming to terms with her mother and her past.

I also find it interesting that both Housebound (New Zealand) and The Babadook (Australia) came out in 2014 from the other side of the Pacific, and The Babadook is the one that earned all the praise. In terms of acting, plotting, characterization, and what it tells us about our own relationships, I think Housebound tromps The Babadook. I’m not sure why Housebound didn’t make more of an impression, but if anyone reads this and is inspired to watch it, I’ll be happy to have done my part to spread the word.

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