The House With A Clock In Its Walls Review

The House With A Clock In Its Walls
In 1955, young orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) arrives in the town of New Zebedee, Michigan, where he’s entering into the care of his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Not that it exactly counts as ‘care’: Jonathan is a warlock who owns an enchanted house which contains a hidden clock that’s counting down to doomsday. And it’s up to him, Lewis and their witchy neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett) to save the world.

by Dan Jolin |
Published on
Release Date:

21 Sep 2018

Original Title:

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

After a directorial career of serving up torture porn and queasy thrillers, Eli Roth switches to something palatable for the pre-teen crowd, complete with magic, monsters and macabre puppets. Which, combined with the rotund presence of Jack Black and the fact it’s based on a kids’ novel (by John Bellairs), suggests The House With A Clock In Its Walls might be little more than a Goosebumps doppelgänger.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls

While the similarities are hard to deny, Roth’s take on child-friendly creep-outs has a different texture. Concerning an orphaned boy (Vaccaro) entering a strange world of both wonder and violent threat, it is an Amblin property both literally and in spirit (the flying-bike logo for Spielberg’s beloved production house notably appears in its original ’80s form). Where Goosebumps assaulted us with digitally conjured creatures, The House… is built on solidly practical foundations, delivering its visual joys through an appealingly baroque production design and couching its narrative in remarkable set-builds rather than greenscreen backdrops. Aside from a few obligatory CG creatures (sticky puke-spewing pumpkin heads, a winged-lion leaf-beast), it benefits from an appealing tangibility too often absent from 21st century family adventures.

A welcome addition to the family-horror subgenre.

Unsurprisingly with Roth behind the megaphone, the chills and jump-scares are rigorously orchestrated, with the final act conjuring some disturbing, 12A-pushing visions that will likely freak out younger viewers. But while Vaccaro impresses as the playground-outcast who discovers a knack for the occult, Black nestles once more into his hyper, boomy, eyebrow-waggling routine, and the ambitious attempt to form a bantering double act with Cate Blanchett — playing an elegant witch who’s lost her magic mojo — doesn’t quite come off.

For all the gags flying around, and all the friendly insults batted between Blanchett and Black, the script lacks the sparkle and polish of many of the classic Amblins it so enthusiastically emulates. It could do with less scatology, and a little more exploration of its intriguing post-war trauma theme. Even so, it remains a welcome addition to the family-horror subgenre, if only for Roth’s determination to visually kick it old-school.

A solid creepshow for (older) kids, which channels the visual appeal of ’80s Amblin adventures while lacking their storytelling panache.
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