September 18, 2018 The House with a Clock in Its Walls (Movie Review)
Family fantasy films can be lightweight but funny, immature yet charming, and possess a certain kind of endearing quirkiness that makes them memorable to their target audience. Unfortunately, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, set to hit theaters on Friday, September 21st through Universal Pictures, falls flat in most of those endeavors. Wondering why? Read on…
Written by Eric Kripke (Boogeyman 2005, Supernatural series), based on the Novel by John Bellairs, and directed by Eli Roth (Hostel 2005, The Green Inferno 2013), the story follows a recently orphaned young boy named Lewis (Owen Vaccaro: Daddy’s Home 2015, Mother’s Day 2016) who is contacted by his estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black: School of Rock 2003, King Kong 2005) informing the boy that he will come live with him now in his foreboding old house.
Jonathan is an oddball to say the least, and we soon learn he is a well-intentioned but not very talented warlock. His neighbor and good friend Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett: The Lord of the Rings film series, Thor:Ragnarok 2017) is a much more talented witch. The house is filled with numerous magical artifacts like a sentient chair, stained glass windows that move and change, but the most striking feature is the dozens upon dozens of clocks strewn about everywhere.
The previous owner of the house, an older and powerful warlock, hid a magical clock of unknown power inside the walls that Jonathan and Florence must find before a certain time, or something very bad will happen. They try to keep this from Lewis, but the boy is smart and curious and must be let in on the secret before long. Lewis must be brave and take his own journey as a warlock, all while trying to discover the secret of the mysterious clock in the walls.
The first act of The House with a Clock in Its Walls is quite similar to other family friendly Fantasy films like Harry Potter, where the awkward kid gets whisked away into a magical new home and dives head first into powers, but never quite clicks. However, the house does not reach that level of agency a place like Hogwarts does, where it feels like a primary character itself.
Lewis is the target of bullying, seemingly a must for any similar story, but this aspect is muddied by the inexplicable nature of one of his schoolmates, who turns from friend to enemy and halfway back again without a satisfactory explanation. It would have been better to let the bullies be what they are and the friends be who they are.
Black and Blanchett, are without a doubt the best things about The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Black seems tailor-made for a role like this, and he embraces it with his usual childlike gusto and exuberance. Blanchett, a two-time Academy Award winner, of course is one of the finest actresses around and seems to make the art look easy no matter the role. She is excellent again here, playing Florence with the perfect balance of confidence, humor, and vulnerability when needed. Vaccaro is no slouch either for a child, and he makes Lewis a sympathetic character that the audience can get behind. However, all three can only do so much with mediocre material.
Strangely, the movie is directed by the aforementioned Eli Roth, a well-known and respected master of Horror. He is without question a talented director and does a fine job here, but the film’s problems really lay in its script. It seems to target an audience of a 10-12 or so age range, but the humor in it would exasperate even them. All three lead actors try their best, but the jokes are just bad. Additionally, nothing feels like it settles in one place for long enough. We never feel the magic of the house or the wonder of the magic itself, nor the friendships that Lewis makes, because the one true friendship he forges is in the very last scene of the film. There is something distant about the writing and it lasts throughout the entire film, making it difficult for an audience to connect with it.
Overall, The House With a Clock in Its Walls only possesses a small amount of the charm that it wants to. The humor is bland, the plot derivative, and the pacing downright frustrating. The weak script and hollow mystique drag down the entire project, and as good as the actors and director are, they cannot save it.
Perhaps if there is nothing else to do on a weekend, one could take a chance with their child and see it, but do not be surprised if they forget about it almost as soon as they leave the theater. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives The House With a Clock in Its Walls 2.5 out of 5 stars.