Directed by Juliane Block and written by Wolf-Peter Arand, when down on her luck Jane Dormant (Mhairi Calvey) learns about the death of her Aunt Alexandra (Emma Spurgin Hussey) she expects a life-saving inheritance but finds herself battling bloodthirsty zombies instead. Also starring: Makenna Guyler, Waleed Elgadi, Kevin Leslie, Jo Price, Nick McMillen and Arnaldo Stafa.
The opening scene creates an intriguing atmosphere, feeling steeped in fantasy, using a simple but visually very effective style of animation and creating a historical tale for the story to follow. It’s a tone that sadly isn’t followed up with the rest of the film that’s too focused on creating a modern feel rather than something generational with a wider perspective. When the film switches from its initial animation to the live action, it’s a rather blunt transition given that the cinematography is very grounded in everyday style; it could have used a darker or edgier visual to meld its introduction with the rest of the story.
Fighting the undead has become an incredibly common theme in film and television which creates an even larger challenge for new projects taking it on; you need to have something new to add to stand out but it doesn’t feel as though this film does. Granted, the idea of the story and the zombies being guardians to protect the house does somewhat step outside what we’ve already seen, but it’s an element that doesn’t resonate strongly enough throughout to differentiate itself. Taking away that aspect, what’s left is quite simple, a handful of characters trapped in a house with zombies incoming, there’s some familial issues brought to the surface but nothing significant enough to anchor the story around.
Part of the reason for that is the characters, there isn’t much sympathy to be found among them and they’re fairly two-dimensional. The story also brings forth issues of racism, classism and elitism but doesn’t adequately resolve or denounce them. Of all of them, the only character to really get behind is Naser (Elgadi, who you may recognise from the recent Netflix release Mosul) and he doesn’t receive enough screen time or focus to push the film further. The film starts off centring itself around Jane (Calvey) but her character is problematic and any initial sympathy radically declines as she reveals herself to be selfish and prejudiced, whereas Jennifer (Guyler) who starts out that way does redeem herself down the line. That leaves Nigel (Leslie), a very frustratingly predictable and stereotypical character who is there to make you hate him and in fairness, he does that very successfully.
There’s a blend of drama and horror used which falls mostly to the former, the horror element feels downplayed and the use of zombies needed either a heightened sense of threat or certain level of violence to add to the atmosphere and tension of the film but it’s missing both. It does bring through a more violent touch towards the end but it’s too late to effectively impact the tone of the film. It almost feels as if it might have been better sticking to purely the dramatic side of things and exploring the relationship between the sisters and their values, rather than focusing on escaping the house.
Similarly with the direction and editing work, they feel befitting of a drama so the work themselves are consistent throughout but simply don’t work perfectly in tandem with the story that it’s telling. That everyday feeling to the visual is something that’s further hindered by the lighting choices, which can come across as artificial and take you slightly out of the story because it contributes to the issue of not presenting a bigger threat or edge. The special effects and make-up work is a mixed bag, the glowing eyes choice doesn’t add a lot and the zombies lack a scary feeling, fitting more in a PG realm but when those brief moments of violence appear, the effects work is improved.
The Curse of Hobbes House feels like a story being pulled in a few different directions that couldn’t quite come together as one. While the zombie element does have a role to play, in the larger picture it doesn’t have enough to add and its characters seem more fit to be slasher victims than leads, coming across rather stereotypical and predictable. The opening hinted at something rooted in the realm of fantasy but the result is stuck too firmly in reality both thematically and visually.