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Smashing Spirits in the Face with HOUSEBOUND (2014) – Adam Cesare

housebound

In its two hour runtime, Gerard Johnstone���s Housebound has a lot of plot, a lot of ideas, a robust cast of characters, and a lot of gags (both of the splattery and ha-ha varieties, sometimes with significant spillover). This density is part of what makes it a great, refreshing film, but it���s also what makes it a hard film to discuss without spoiling.

The story takes several unexpected digressions, each of them feeling like a riff on a different sub-genre. While never feeling disjointed, this is still a film that can accurately be said to evokePoltergeist, The People Under the Stairs, and Peter Jackson���s early splatschtick (probably a hacky comparison that every blogger has made, this being a New Zealand production, but not a comparison that���s untrue. In a few shots the blood even has that Dead-Alive pinkness to it, something in the water, maybe?).

Possibly the best, spoilerphobic, way to describe the film is as the ultimate skeptic���s haunted house movie.

The film starts with a botched ATM robbery and concerns a twenty-something screw-up (Morgana O’Reilly) who is court-ordered to (haunted?) house arrest with her kooky mother (Rima Te Wiata) and step-father. While stuck there she does some investigating into the house���s mysterious past. That���s about all the plot synopsis we need to get into.

Housebound is keenly aware of horror tropes and at constant work to subvert them. Take for instance our protagonist. Kylie (O’Reilly, who���s wonderful here) doesn���t hide from threats, she attacks them head on. On paper Kylie may sound reminiscent of You���re Next���s cunningly competent Erin (Sharni Vinson), but this being a straight-up horror-comedy, Kylie���s agency blows right past ���strong��� and into the realm of ���pathologically aggressive.��� This virtue/flaw is fun, and even something another character comments on late in the film.

The subversion of horror clich��s doesn���t stop with the characters and their upheaval of archetypes, sometimes a joke is made out of strict adherence to clich��s. There���s a great bit right near the climax of the film where the pace halts so Kylie���s psychiatrist can define ���dissociative personality disorder.��� It���s a scene we���ve seen so many times that its inclusion in a film as savvy as Housebound (and where it’s located)becomes something that made me laugh out loud.

It���s important to note that while a comedy, Housebound is not a parody. What sets it apart from something like Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil or Cabin in the Woods (both movies I like a lot, so don���t take that as a dismissal) is that Housebound���s aware of horror tropes, but its comedy and plot is not shackled to them. The film is never too in-jokey, never does disservice to the story or characters in order to service something ���meta���, and never feels like a movie your friends who aren���t ���into��� horror wouldn���t get.

The film���s broader slyness is perfectly encapsulated in the character of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), Kylie���s personal rent-a-cop security detail and, it turns out, a paranormal investigator in his spare time. It would be easy for the film to treat Amos like a total joke, and the first scene where he whips out his tape recorder and tries to sweep the house for EVP is very funny in a ���get a load of this guy��� kinda way. But Johnstone grants Amos a usefulness, sweetness, and competency that it���s hard to give real-life reality show ���ghost hunters��� (even if the film is totally against the idea that the cosmic mysteries of the universe will somehow be cracked wide open by a bunch of guys with chinstraps and cassette tapes).

Are there some jokes that don���t land? Some moments that clunk? Certainly, but what���s remarkable in a film that feels this quietly ambitious is how much of the material works. And for adebut feature to have this much going for it, I can���t wait to see what Johnstone does next.

See it before the (already announced) remake so you can feel superior.

P.S. Saw this while doing a little editorial research and it���s a pretty sick burn:

A lot of complaints about the Housebound remake are followed by a link where you can watch the film for free to see what the fuss it about.

— Gerard Johnstone (@GerardJohnstone) February 12, 2015

If it sounds up your alley (especially if you want the right to some guilt-free whining), drop the couple bucks to see the film legitimately.

P.P.S. Now that I say that I must say that ��I bought this via Xbox���s Xbox Video app (because it was slightly cheaper than Vudu, an app that seems to work fine) and the streaming was AWFUL. The service froze at key moments, the audio continuing, so I had to rewind several times. It really kills the momentum of a movie and if streaming is really the future of distribution these services have got to sort crap like this out.

Then, to doubly kick myself, I saw that the movie was already out on blu-ray (as an amazon retailer exclusive, which is a new one on me) for just a couple bucks more than my sub-par digital purchase. If you���re going to go the route of buying over renting: go with the disc. Support physical media because streaming is the devil.

Take My Wife, Please

Adam Cesare’s Blog

Take My Wife, Please: HONEYMOON (2014)

honeymoon-quad

A lot of modern films, sometimes much to their detriment in a Screenplay 101 kinda way, take��Chekhov’s rifle��extremely literally.

But few films display the discipline that Leigh Janiak’s��Honeymoon��does while turning everysingle prop introduced before the 45-minute mark into its own Chekhov’s rifle, poised to explode in the second half without the audience knowing quite where it will fit in.

Rope? That’s going to get some use. The idiosyncratic call-and-answer pet-name the protagonists repeat? That comes back. The camcorder? Double yup, both for its form and for its expositional content. The skewer used to cook s’mores?

Not even s’mores are sacred in Janiak’s world.

All of this planting and revisiting is necessary, because the best way to describe��Honeymoon��without spoiling it is that: it’s a horror movie that’s fond of sci-fi but it likes to use the native language of the mystery to communicate.

Wait, that was all confusing, let me start again.

Every horror fan likes to whine, but they���re not often specific��enough when they do their whining to effect change.

Well then, you ask: I���m a horror fan, so what���s my biggest problem with genre cinema, even when you get to its more edgy and indie fringes?

Answer: I���m annoyed by horror���s propensity for using the most broad-based, over-used fears to work with. I think that whole ���find a universal fear to exploit so everyone can relate��� tactic is garbage.

Fear of the dark, claustrophobia, fear of the ���other��� (whether they be bumpkins or whatever), fear of histrionic bodily harm. Those fears all get a lot of play and it’s not that Honeymoondoesn’t touch on any of them, it does, but those aren’t the main interest.

Fear of intimacy? Fear of commitment? Fear of starting a family? Fear of second-level betrayal, a violation of who you thought someone you loved was? Those are the kind of paranoia deep-cuts that don���t get a lot of play in modern horror cinema. What Leigh Janiak (who not only directs but co-writes Honeymoon) understands is that specificity does not always upend relate-ability.

I am not married, but I understand getting into a fight with my girlfriend. I have not had the displeasure of discovering my girlfriend cold��and lost in the Canadian wilderness, but I can understand that sick double-edged sword of fearing for both her vulnerability and possible culpability in the act. And that���s what a well-made, confident film can do: it can use the emotions its audience has experienced as analogues for the emotions it hasn���t.

Why am I being so vague and so wordy when talking about Honeymoon? Well, mostly because I���m such a spoilerphobe that I don���t think I���m capable of discussing the specifics ofHoneymoon���s plot without completely giving up the ending.

Honeymoon is a movie that would lose all power, may even fall prey to being called ���predictable��� if it wasn���t capable of subverting your expectations. But subvert expectations it does, even with its��first line of dialogue.

Honeymoon is the rare horror film where the actors are tasked with doing most��of the heavy-lifting. Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie are not only the stars of��Honeymoon: they are the only actors on screen for 98% of the film.

What���s interesting about these stars is how I (and I���m guessing a lot of other American viewers) perceive them before the movie begins.

These are two of the most British/Scottish actors I can think of. Leslie rose to prominence in a supporting, but memorable, role in Downton Abbey, but later traded in her maid���s uniform for furs when she moved beyond The Wall to join the Free Folk as Ygritte on Game of Thrones. Likewise, Treadaway plays Victor Frankenstein in Showtime���s (unbelievably good, so much better than its premise should allow) Penny Dreadful.

Picking up the Blu-ray and looking at the above-the-title stars, I just assumed that Honeymoon was a British movie, one of those flicks that is prefaced as having been ���awarded funds from the National Lottery.” That British-ness brings with it a surfeit of preconceptions. I was prepared for some folk horror, maybe some Hammer/Amicus-tinged Gothic melodrama.

But the film’s not British and doesn’t fall into either of those catagories, it���s a movie about Americans (Brooklynites, at least for Treadaway���s character, Paul) who go honeymooning in a remote lakeside cabin in Canada.

It���s that kind of displacement that starts a movie that has, at its core, a “are you really the person I married?” mindfuck. So touch��, film, I officially don���t know whether I���m supposed to criticize your star���s accents or not. Their inconsistencies (and even a few egregious ADR inserts) could very well be part of the text, could be what Janiak wants. But even that stuff doesn’t matter because, whether it’s the performances or the script, I buy Leslie and Treadaway as a couple.

If any of the stuff above sounds at all like I didn���t like Honeymoon:��it shouldn’t. I enjoyed this movie as a whole and loved the last fifteen minutes so damn much. In fact, it���s one of those movies I���m really sad I was asleep at the wheel for its theatrical/VOD release, because it has a handful of stylistic and thematic links with Starry Eyes, so much so that would I really have to think about which movie I prefer.

Many debut feature films��feel like debut features. Even when they’re great that greatness often feels like it’s carrying an asterisk. They have indulgent dialogue, deep flaws in logic, and stylistic flourishes that have to be overlooked as soon as the director makes a newer, superior film, but here Leigh Janiak has made a movie that doesn���t possess any of those blemishes. She���s honedHoneymoon into a sharp one hour and twenty seven-minute blade, a blade that’ll make audiences feel the shock of its body horror (easier, when the gag is right) and the sting of loss (a much more advanced maneuver).

Without spoiling it: damn are a few of those last bits good.

View more on Adam Cesare’s website »

 

Coming this Year….

Here are the contracted Limited Editions for 2015 in no certain order:

Jagger by Kristopher Rufty (order now)

Adrift by K.R. Griffiths

The Summer Job by Adam Cesare

Companions in Ruin by Mark Allan Gunnells

Scavengers by Nate Southard

Episodes of Violence by David Bernstein

Untitled Prequel to Survivor by J.F. Gonzales w/Wrath James White & Brian Keene

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