THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is the latest film from horror master Eli Roth (Death Wish) based off the beloved children’s novel of the same name by author John Bellairs. The film stars an A-list roster that includes Cate Blanchett (Carol), Jack Black (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle), Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks), Lorenza Izzo (Knock Knock) and Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home).
In this magical adventure we meet Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), a newly orphaned 10-year-old who has been sent to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a mysterious house filled with ticking clocks. As Lewis gets acclimated to his new surroundings, he discovers that his uncle is actually a practicing warlock. As he struggles with normalcy at school, he begs his uncle to teach him what he knows in the hopes that one day he too can become a warlock. However, he soon learns that not all use their powers for good. Hidden deep within the walls of the sprawling Victorian home is a clock… a clock that won’t stop ticking… a clock created by Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), a powerful warlock determined to bring about the Apocalypse with the intent of eradicating humanity. As long as this clock exists, it’ll continue to tick closer and closer to doomsday, unless Lewis and his Uncle can locate it before Isaac’s nefarious wife finds it.
Never in a million years did I think I would be seeing a kids film directed by Eli Roth. My first foray into Roth’s filmography was with, what I consider to be his best work, the 2002 horror film, Cabin Fever. Since then, Roth has gone on to make a slew of horror films that have landed him on many controversial lists due to the excessive amounts of gore and violence used throughout. When it was announced earlier this year that he would be directing an adaptation of a beloved children’s book, I scratched my head and went “Huh?”. I didn’t know much about the movie prior to seeing it last night, but I can tell you I was 100% intrigued just on the basis that Eli Roth was going to be directing it.
As you can imagine THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is not filled with gore, though that doesn’t mean there isn’t any violence and/or horror. There’s a lot here that young kids will love – whether that be from the imagery presented, the lovable “creatures” or Jack Black’s performance, but there is also a fair amount that older adults will enjoy as well. Though we aren’t seeing anyone butchered (looking at you Hostel), Roth still injects his own themes of horror throughout the movie, most notably when a certain slew of terrifying-looking puppets come alive. Roth’s dark and macabre filmmaking comes to life in scenes such as these, and though they are few and far between, they still make quite an impact.
Where I felt the movie stumbled the most was in the writing; which is a shame considering they had a novel to reference. It’s not that the writing was unforgivable, it just wasn’t as captivating as it could have been, especially with all the visual candy to take in. Speaking of which, the visuals in this film were astounding, especially that of the Victorian house that Jonathan resides in. There was a homey feel to it that just seemed inviting and comforting in which it would be easy to curl up with a book about spells while eating chocolate chip cookies (with nuts in them) baked by Mrs. Zimmerman, played wonderfully by Cate Blanchett. Even when the story took a turn into darker territory, the visuals followed suite with killer pumpkins and those damn puppets coming to life.
As for the acting, I was very impressed with Owen Vaccaro’s performance as he reminded me a lot of another young actor by the name of Jacob Tremblay. Jack Black is enjoyable in most everything he does, and he once again played the role of a lovable goof. Then there is of course Cate Blanchett, who portrays Mrs. Zimmerman, neighbor to Jonathan and fellow witch with a penchant for the color purple. Her story is a bit more complicated as we learn that she is a broken woman whose magic doesn’t work the way it used too. I would have loved to have dived deeper into her storyline but alas, that was not what this movie was about. Though Kyle MacLachlan isn’t in the film as much as we all would like, he definitely delivered as the evil magician Isaac Izard. If there is one aspect of the film that is sure to frighten small children, it would probably be his resurrection so to speak.
All in all, THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is a cute and entertaining film in the same vein as Goosebumps (2015) and Monster House (2006). I wouldn’t necessarily suggest it for young children as I don’t think they will be able to pick up on the story nor will they enjoy some of the more horror-themed imagery, but for everyone else, I think it’s definitely a film that families will enjoy seeing together especially with the Halloween season approaching. Even though I felt that the overall storyline could have used some work, I think Eli Roth did a fantastic job of bringing the tale to life while still infusing his own love for the horror genre. With a positive message of acceptance for those who are deemed “not normal” THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is a feel-good movie that captures the timeless meaning of what it is to be a family.