Director: Eli Roth
Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Renee Elise Goldsberg, Sunny Suljic, Kyle MacLachlan
Screenplay: Eric Kripke
104 mins. Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor, and language.
I never would’ve expected Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Death Wish) to direct a family film. I did expect him to cameo in it.
The House with a Clock in its Walls is based on the 1970s book of the same name, and it is set in 1955 after Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro, Daddy’s Home, Fun Mom Dinner) is sent to live with his estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, School of Rock, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle) at his home in New Zebedee, Michigan. Uncle Jonathan’s home is considered to be one of the strangest in town, and Lewis quickly learns his uncle is a warlock, and his neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett, Carol, How to Train Your Dragon 2) is a witch, and a year earlier, a very tortured warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan, Inside Out, TV’s Twin Peaks) died in the house. As Lewis begins training to become a warlock like his uncle, he struggles with the task of not revealing his new powers to a popular boy in school named Tarby (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot), and Lewis makes a grave mistake that risks the lives of not just his newfound family, but all life on Earth.
Let me tell you about the things I didn’t like in The House with a Clock in its Walls because overall, I rather enjoyed myself. I think Owen Vaccaro really struggles to play the leading role here, and most of the best scenes in the film are based around Black, Blanchett, and MacLachlan. His performance tends to fall back on back theatrics and disappointing crying and screaming. I understand that may be how he is portrayed in the book, but it just doesn’t work here.
The pacing is a little chunky as well, particularly in the middle of the film. There’s a lot going on, but most of the scenes at Lewis’s new school simply bog down the film and should’ve been drastically trimmed to keep the pace going.
All that being said, I had a grin on my face for a large portion of the movie. I was reminded of children’s horror from the 1990s like the Goosebumps TV show and films like Hocus Pocus, Casper, and The Witches. The movie was actually rather creepy and discussed some gruesome things, and I saw kids in the theater with me covering their eyes and keeping two fingers split so as to keep watching. Some kids really love being scared, and I’m glad that Hollywood is recognizing that again. Eli Roth does a fine job of mixing the horror with the fun, aided by a nice screenplay from Eric Kripke (Boogeyman, TV’s Supernatural).
Most of the scenes outside of the school actually left me wanting more mythology. Lewis keeps bringing up a character from television called Captain Midnight and I feel like we only barely scratched the surface. I wanted more Captain Midnight, I wanted more creatures and spells in the house, I wanted more backstory from Izard. I just wanted more. Learning that the book is part of a series makes me really want to see this become a franchise.
The House with a Clock in its Walls stumbles a bit here and there, but I still had fun watching it. It’s the kind of film that you can bring your kids to and still have fun. It feels like it could be the Hocus Pocus of this generation, staying with youths as they grow up and show their kids, and I hope you give it a try. I mean, they are releasing it with Thriller in 3D (something I did not get to see last night), so go for that at the very least.
-Kyle A. Goethe
For my review of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, click here.
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