The 9th annual Toronto After Dark film festival started incredibly strong with its Opening Gala film Housebound, a thrilling horror-comedy by New Zealand writer/director Gerard Johnstone. To call this film a pleasant surprise would be a bit of an understatement – it was nothing short of brilliant in the way it mashed up a variety of different horror genres, and made use of some truly shocking and unexpected plot twists to keep you guessing as to its endgame. Combine those elements with Johnstone’s incredibly sharp and witty sense of humour, and you have a unique and hugely entertaining horror film that continually walks the line between frightening and hilarious, and delivers big surprises at every turn.
A troubled young woman named Kylie (Morgana O’Reilly) is arrested during a botched robbery attempt and sentenced to house arrest, where she must move back in with her mom and stepdad. Acting like a complete brat at first, Kylie eventually begins to address the broken relationship she has with her mother (Rima Te Wiata), which unearths her mother’s longstanding belief that their house has been haunted for years by a restless spirit. After witnessing some unexplainable events herself, Kylie begins investigating the history of their family’s house with the help of her probation officer (Glen-Paul Waru), where she learns of its sordid past and sets into motion a series of shocking revelations that will place her life and that of her family in jeopardy.
O’Reilly does a fantastic job in the lead role as the hard-edged Kylie, with a badass quality that sets her apart from typical horror heroines, and also remains the source for many of the film’s funniest scenes. Her no-bullshit approach to ghost hunting was refreshing, and then when things begin to change pace in the later portions of the film, we come to see other sides emerge as well, proving her to be more layered and fully realized character than she initially lets on. The incredibly charismatic Rima Te Wiata is another big show-stealer as Kylie’s overly talkative and slightly neurotic mother, whose facial expressions alone are enough to earn big laughs in several scenes. The two share a great comedic chemistry as mother and daughter, but it is their strained relationship that remains the anchor of the film in many ways, allowing the blood-soaked final act to carry a bit more emotional weight as a result.
But despite its occasionally comedic or dramatic tone the film is certainly not short on horror, with several genuinely creepy scenes that build quite nicely towards a claustrophobic final confrontation, which is sure to have you laughing and gasping in equal measure. This film is undoubtedly one of the best horror-comedies to come along in a while, and marks another excellent film in that genre to emerge from New Zealand, following the phenomenal What We Do in the Shadows which premiered at TIFF earlier this year.
Housebound premiered following an original Canadian short film entitled Foxed! by directors James E.D. Stewart and Nev Bezaire. Foxed! utilizes some fantastic stop-motion animation to tell the story of a girl named Emily who has been captured by foxes and forced to work in underground mining tunnels, until one day when she breaks free and comes to learn the horrifying truth behind the foxes’ mysterious plans! This short was very brief and effective, with a fun story and a great final twist that calls back to some classic horror films. It is currently available on iTunes.
Toronto After Dark runs from October 16-24 at the Scotiabank Theatre. Visit their official website for full schedule and ticket information.