Movie Review: The House with a Clock in its Walls
The House with a Clock in its Walls is the first theatrical release to truly kick off the countdown to Halloween. This family film was directed by Eli Roth, who is usually associated with such horror films as Hostel, Cabin Fever, and The Green Inferno. The script was written by Eric Kripke and based upon the novel of the same name by John Bellairs. The film follows a young boy named Lewis who goes to live with his mysterious uncle after his parents’ death. The film stars Jack Black as Jonathan Barnavelt, Cate Blanchett as Florence Zimmerman, and Owen Vaccaro as Lewis Barnavelt. The supporting cast also includes Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Colleen Camp, and Lorenza Izzo.
The film begins in 1955 with a ten-year-old named Lewis Barnavelt riding a bus to live with his uncle Jonathan in New Zebedee, Michigan. Lewis is unnerved by his uncle’s creaky old house, and he soon discovers his uncle wandering around the halls at night. Lewis is also introduced to their neighbor, Florence Zimmerman, who is a good friend of his uncle Jonathan. Lewis manages to find a single friend at school in Tarby Corrigan, who informs Lewis that the house is haunted. Whenever Lewis discovers his uncle damaging a wall of the house with an ax, Jonathan finally explains to Lewis that he is a mediocre but well-intentioned warlock. He also explains that Florence is a good and powerful witch and that they are trying to find a clock that was hidden in the house by its former owner. This discovery leads Lewis to embark on his own journey to learn magic. However, their lives become more difficult as the truth about the clock and its countdown unfolds.
So, I thought that The House with a Clock in its Walls was a quirky and mostly charming movie. From some interviews, I have heard Roth mention how he intended this movie as an introduction to horror films for kids, and I think he accomplished that goal. There is a sufficient amount of creepiness, a few jump scares, and a truly unsettling villain both in ideology and physical appearance. Of course, this film is not just a dark tale and leans into the comedy pretty heavily with its cast being led by Jack Black. There are the funny comments and conversations you would expect but also several awkwardly funny sequences. It leans into the ridiculous in many ways with its magic and animated objects that are typically inanimate, and they somehow make that work with some of the very serious themes presented as well.
Perhaps the aspect I enjoyed most about the film were those serious themes and ideas embedded in this dark fantasy comedy. It understandably delves into how it is alright to be different and to embrace it rather than change yourself. Also, since the film is set post-World War II, the film hits on the horrors of war and the impact it leaves on those who survive. In fact, they delve into this with several characters including the one played by Cate Blanchett, which is beautifully revealed. In my opinion, Cate Blanchett and Jack Black completely make this film, and their chemistry is fantastic. With every hilarious insult, I was reminded that I never knew how much I needed a team up between Blanchett and Black.
Overall, The House with a Clock in its Walls is an oddball film that I could not help but enjoy. It has heartwarming moments despite its dark sequences and contained some nice reveals in relation to the villain. The journeys of the characters are engaging, and the humor is delivered on particularly by Blanchett and Black. While this movie is technically promoted as a family film, I would caution that younger children may not be able to handle some of the more intense sequences. However, I think The House with a Clock in its Walls is a lot of fun and fully embraces its weirdly wonderful structure and story.
Mollie is a film enthusiast, aspiring writer/screenwriter, and a lover of all things Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Doctor Who. She is the co-founder of The Digital Shore (@thedigitalshore) and Above The Line (@atl_movies). You can follow her many adventures through Twitter and Instagram at @mcbeach.