The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)
The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

Genre: Adventure and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: September 21st, 2018 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Eli Roth Actors: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Lorenza Izzo, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Colleen Camp, Sunny Suljic

 


 

A

fter his parents die in a tragic car accident, ten-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in New Zebedee, Michigan. At first finding it difficult to adjust to a new town, Lewis soon befriends young Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic) at school. But it’s getting accustomed to the spooky sounds and foreboding atmosphere of his uncle’s ancient mansion that requires the most perseverance. When Lewis discovers that both Jonathan and his next door neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), are proficient in the art of magic, the youth begs them to teach him the craft. As his skills grow, Lewis aids the bickering duo in a dangerous quest to uncover a mysterious clock hidden somewhere deep within the bowels of the building.

Like so many live-action children’s films, “The House with a Clock in its Walls” (a tongue-twister of a title) begins with a youth coping with parental loss, while also contending with a change of location, new guardians, and a different school. Plus, there are plenty of fresh adventures to be had. Here, the protagonist is an overly book-smart boy, and his wards are eccentric oddballs – not too far removed from the familiar setups seen in Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “Jumanji,” “Inkheart,” “A Monster Calls,” and, of course, the Harry Potter yarns – to name just a very few of the countless properties that tackle such subjects with a helping of witchcraft.

“You’re responsible for keeping a human child alive?” It’s a little more hopeful than some of its peers, particularly as Jonathan and Florence are good-natured, jovial hosts, resorting only to immature insults to express their chumminess, while also embracing such unconventional child-rearing habits as cookies for dinner (and every other meal) and allowing Lewis to supervise/discipline himself. Jonathan also belts out tunes on his saxophone at ungodly hours and isn’t afraid to sport a kimono, while his female counterpart favors violet dresses and a purple umbrella. This independence from guidance affords the boy time to explore dark hallways in the middle of the night, all alone, in a creepy house that is far more cavernous on the inside than it shows on the outside. Like a live-action reimagining of Disney’s Haunted Mansion theme park attraction, the dusty old estate has a mind of its own, with a stained glass window that changes its picture, hundreds of ticking cuckoo clocks, and all sorts of antique mannequins and toys, like Andrew Wyke’s residence in “Sleuth” (1972) – or the disused carnival pieces that harbor the nightmarish creatures of “Silent Hill.”

With Eli Roth (“Cabin Fever,” “Hostel,” “The Green Inferno”) at the helm, “The House with a Clock in its Walls” feels exactly how one might expect a family-friendly children’s picture to feel if it was directed by the torture-porn aficionado. It may only have garnered a PG rating, but there are numerous jump-scares, eerie hellions, otherworldly occurrences, spirit-raising necromancy, and strange concepts that would probably work better in a mature thriller. Fortunately, humor (including some standard rude jokes) wriggles its way into the ordeals as well, turning the grief, loneliness, encouragement toward individuality, and lessons about mistakes and forgiveness into blither scenarios.

Once again, however, the story suffers from random uses of magic, which never have solid foundations or definitions, managing to be conjured up in the heat of the moment to create obstacles or to spontaneously solve them. The result is a macabre yet funny adventure, though one small enough in its ambitions as to become terribly unmemorable. At least it’s resolute, refusing to serve merely as a starting point for a franchise, even if the source material (John Bellairs’ juvenile mystery novel) did indeed evolve into a sizable series of books.

– The Massie Twins

  • 5/10