Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan
Director: Eli Roth
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: In the tradition of Amblin classics where fantastical events occur in the most unexpected places, Jack Black and two-time Academy Award (R) winner Cate Blanchett star in THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS, from Amblin Entertainment. The magical adventure tells the spine-tingling tale of 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his uncle in a creaky old house with a mysterious tick-tocking heart. But his new town’s sleepy façade jolts to life with a secret world of warlocks and witches when Lewis accidentally awakens the dead.
The House with a Clock in its Walls is the type of movie you make when you play Ad Libs with a major Hollywood studio. I never thought I would see the day where Eli Roth would direct a family-friendly fantasy movie with Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, but here we are. So, how did this wild mash-up of genre standouts work out? When you take legends in the horror, comedy, and drama genres, you end up with a film that has just that; horror, comedy, and drama. While the comedy can get a little juvenile at times, The House with a Clock in its Walls is still a pretty good time that everyone in the family should be able to enjoy for its entire 105 minute runtime.
The film follows Lewis (Vaccaro), a young boy who has gone to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) and Jonathan’s neighbor Florence (Blanchett) after Lewis’s parents died. After discovering that his new guardians have magical powers, Lewis learns the ways of the warlock and the consequences that come with learning magic. Between Lewis having to having to navigate the struggles of fitting in at a new school and also the reemergence of Isaac (MacLachlan), an evil warlock who used to live in Jonathan’s house, Lewis and his new family must work together to stop Isaac’s actions from consuming the earth. Starting with the performances, it is very strange to see actors like Black and Blanchett working with one another since they come from very different backgrounds, but they mesh together very well. Blanchett is a master-class actress who is more well-known for her dramatic performances, but she brings an excellent level of comedy to a performance that really needed it. Black on the other hand, has to match Blanchett’s background as a dramatic actress and does so in an impressive way. He is still his light-hearted self throughout the movie, but also explains to Lewis the stakes and responsibilities that come with being a warlock and why he needs to take it seriously. Black has to delicately balance these dramatic moments with the comedy that he is usually known for and does so in an excellent performance that is hard to complain about. Vaccaro on the other hand, really annoyed me more than anything. I understand he is supposed to be this wimpy new kid that nobody wants to be friends with, but he ended aggravating me with his constant shrieking and general fear of life. I understand that his situation is probably a lot to take in, but this kid was scared of his own shadow when he did not have magic, and that gets old quick. Outside of the acting, I was surprised at just how frightening some of the scenes that included magic were. This may be a children’s movie, but I swear certain scenes are scarier than most of the horror movies I have watched this year. While none of these scenes were particularly gory or violent, the imagery and sound will definitely scare most kids in a way that only Eli Roth can. Moving on to the comedy, Black is a naturally charismatic actor and excels in the scenes that require his wit and charm, but some of the physical comedy moments really show that this movie truly is aimed at younger audiences. There is a running joke of a lion made of hedges that poops leaves that repeats multiple times, and after the first time it gets tiresome, let alone the third time. When the film relies on clever wordplay and character building, it ends up creating a very fun world for everyone watching. Instead, these childish moments ruin the tone of what is otherwise a fairly competent film.
Overall, The House with a Clock in its Walls is one of the strangest films on paper, but it ended up having a little bit more magic in it to make it memorable for both adults and younger audiences alike. The acting is strong, the adventure is fun, and the set design makes this movie feel as though we are right there with the characters in the 1950s. While this is by no means a perfect movie, there are enough positive qualities that make it pleasure to watch regardless of what type of movie you want to watch.
Overall Score: 6/10