It’s rare to come across a horror film that can be called life-affirming, and such a film would be all the more outstanding given the glumness and nihilism of so much contemporary popular culture. The return of everyday life, and of everyday frustrations and annoyances, can appear after all as a kind of miraculous deliverance if what one has to contend with are demonic forces and murderous and possibly possessed social authorities. Kylie, the heroine of Housebound is an incorrigible petty criminal who is sentenced to house arrest (the film is set in the lenient social democracy that is New Zealand) in the strange house where she grew up, which her mother believes is haunted. It turns out that their residence used to be a halfway house run by a church where a teenaged girl was murdered.
Sure enough, Kylie begins to hear weird noises and experience strange events, which lead her to a box hidden in the floorboards that contain some valuables stolen by the murdered girl. The cop responsible for monitoring Kylie’s ankle bracelet turns out to have a hobby examining paranormal phenomena, and there is a nice scene where he lectures Kylie that the teen’s ghost has chosen to communicate with her because Kylie is just as self-absorbed, entitled, and narcissistic as the murder victim was. But the fact that the film has a heroine with a rap sheet is one of its charms, as the audience can always depend on Kylie to take heart-stopping risks and fight back fearlessly when attacked, as well as to break into houses and hot-wire cars as needed.
Finally, the film is actually grounded in some serious social issues, and expresses a perspective that could be considered critical of the nanny state, even as it takes a deeply affectionate view of working-class and lower middle class life. For Kylie’s mother Miriam, the house represented a path to upward mobility and remains for her an investment in spite of the strange events taking place within it. The most deadly violence, however, emanates from the frustrations of maintaining a legal system that is afraid to slap the wrists of repeat offenders who go on repeating their offenses. “All I wanted to do was to help people,” says the cannibal / ghost / vampire / killer gnome (pick one).