To combine comedy and horror without one compromising the other, is by no means an easy task. To evoke a sense of anxiety and fear in certain scenes, and then minutes later expect the very same, petrified people to laugh out loud at a well-executed, droll-witted joke can be asking a fair amount. But Kiwi director Gerard Johnstone has succeeded, in his compelling debut feature Housebound.

After a robbery goes horribly wrong, Kylie Bucknell (Morgana O’Reilly) is sentenced to an eight month home detention, where she is reunited with her garrulous and exasperating mother Miriam (Rima Te Wiata). While back at home Kylie starts to hear noises in the basement and her fears are perpetuated by her mothers insistence they they live in a haunted house – but when she complains to the law enforcement and her counsellor Dennis (Cameron Rhodes), they believe it’s merely an excuse for her to leave, or just her imagination playing up given her boredom. But she’s convinced that she’s not making it up – and thankfully, her security officer Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), who is charge of monitoring her ankle tag, starts to think she may well be on to something, and decides to lend a hand.

Often with supernatural horrors of this ilk, where our protagonists find themselves intruding on an evil spirit’s space, you always just wonder why they don’t just go away. Sell the house and buy somewhere nice and calm out in the sticks. But in this case, Kylie isn’t granted such freedom, and the fact she’s placed on house arrest is not only a key narrative decide, but it enhances the horror too. She can’t leave – the law won’t allow her to, and when she explains why she wants to go, there’s no hope at all the police will believe her extravagant tale. Kylie makes for a great protagonist too, subverting the usual lead in a horror of this nature. More often than not, we invest in a role who is as petrified as we are – but not in this instance. Kylie doesn’t really give a shit. She wants to lock horns with this paranormal being – and kick this ghoul in its ghoulies.

Housebound succeeds in many areas, and while not truly triumphing in any particular one – it manages to combine an archetypal, droll New Zealand wit with scenes of a suspenseful nature, all tied together by a creative, absorbing story. There’s even the layered, fractured dynamic between the mother and daughter which is explored. This film may not be incredible, but it’s one helluva plate spinning act by Johnstone, in what we hope is a promising sign of things to come.