‘The House With a Clock In Its Walls’ review: Horror icon Eli Roth takes a stab at his first PG film
Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star in Eli Roth’s first film made for kids, but what audience will it really attract?
Based on the 1973 young adult fantasy novel by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey, ‘The House With a Clock In Its Walls’ is a goofy semi-kid friendly film helmed by one of Hollywood's most popular horror film directors, Eli Roth. The story takes place in New Zebedee, Michigan in 1955 and is about a young boy named Lewis (played by the wide-eyed Owen Vaccaro) who is orphaned after a car crash and goes to live with his cooky uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (played by Jack Black). A one-time stage magician, Jonathan lives in the creepiest house in town that everyone presumes is haunted.
After finding out his uncle is actually a warlock, Owen begs to learn the tricks of the trade. With the help of their neighbor Florence Zimmermann (played by the delightful Cate Blanchett), the three witchy outcasts form a tight bond, but there is danger on the way. Throughout the film, Jonathan and Florence are trying to hide their fear and paranoia of the clock that’s in the wall of the house, put there by its last owner to torture them (played by a very creepy and very dead Kyle MacLachlan). After Owen’s powers grow he makes the mistake of a lifetime, resuscitating the dead. What follows is a race to not just save themselves, but all of humanity.
‘The House With a Clock In Its Walls’ had a lot of good things going for it, but it also had some very clear oversights. First of all, it is completely absurd this film is not coming out in October, it’s a Halloween film targeted towards kids that the whole family can enjoy. On top of that, the marketing truly made it seem like the studio was trying to hide the film and shove it under the rug, which shouldn’t be the case ideally. There were some fantastic and insanely fun scenes that pull from some of Hollywood’s most beloved films like ‘A Christmas Story’, ‘The Sandlot’, ‘Beauty & The Beast’ and even the cult classic ‘Practical Magic’. It also definitely had an old-school Disney Channel movie of the week vibe from the 90s and early 2000s, which let’s be real, people still love today.
The performances were overall pretty good, not great and a little over the top, but entertaining nonetheless. Vaccaro is almost a clone of fellow child actor Jacob Tremblay, however in a way it comes as a disadvantage because he is simply not at Tremblay’s level in his craft. That being said, Vaccaro is a talented young boy who was at the very least, engaging to watch.
Blanchett gave what was probably the best performance in the film, giving a much needed female presence grounding Black’s over the top performance. Black is obviously a Hollywood staple and he is good at what he does, but this was certainly not his best. There are parts of the film where his go-to outrageous behavior felt a bit overdone, unnecessary and distracting. As far as MacLachlan is concerned, it was a stretch, but if you've seen the most recent season of ‘Twin Peaks’ it’s clear that he is capable of playing a dark and terrifying character, which is something he brought to the film.
One of the most fascinating parts of this movie is that it was directed by horror movie icon Eli Roth, who is responsible for the ‘Hostile’ franchise and ‘Inglourious Bastards’. Roth is known to make some of the most terrifying movies in Hollywood and while he assuredly toned it down for his first PG film, it was still pretty darn creepy at times. Here’s the problem, we have Black’s over the top, absurd and very kid-friendly performance and then we have Roth’s terrifying touch. For adults, Black is definitely a deterrent but for kids he’s perfect. As for Roth’s filmmaking, it might just be a little too scary for it’s intended audience. It needs to decide which way it is going to go, although without the creepy nature of the film it would have just been a subpar kids movie.
‘The House With a Clock In Its Walls’ will hit theaters nationwide on September 21st.