The House with a Clock in its Walls, 2018.
Directed by Eli Roth.
Starring Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Lorenza Izzo, and Colleen Camp.
When a young orphaned boy named Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), his eyes are opened to a world of enchantment and magic, one that unlocks secrets from his past, and one in which he must help find the location of a ticking clock that threatens to bring about the end of the world.
Who’d have thought that the kind of irrepressibly entertaining movie that The House with a Clock in its Walls turns out to be would come from the same man who made our guts twist with the likes of Hostel and The Green Inferno? A movie which feels like one plucked from the video rental shelves by an excited ten-year old boy in the 90s, bristling with charm, loaded with childish quips, orchestrated by the same director whose most recent output was the ill-judged Death Wish remake. Eli Roth swaps mutilation for magic, stomach churning for sorcery, all without completely abandoning his ability to scare, by creating a kids film that turns out to be his most mature yet.
The House with a Clock in its Walls is the kind of film that belongs in a Jack Black DVD box set with Goosebumps. That breed of kids movie which sprinkles enough magic to engage young and old alike. If that feels like the kind of critique you’ve heard countless times before, then that’s because the same applies to the film, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s a familiar comfort to Roth’s movie; the aesthetic, the PG-friendly jokes, a villain with a plan from the Thanos book of being a bad guy. If that doesn’t tempt you into opening these gothic gates, then there’s also a delightfully playful performance from Blanchett.
In fact, the entire cast are on form, with Blanchett having an absolute hoot, prowling around the beautiful set, wielding a staff like a Ghostbuster without a proton pack. She even gets to head-butt a pumpkin, and that’s worth the ticket price alone. Black conducts himself with his usual hyperactive infectiousness, applying the same manic professor routine that has served him well in similar fare, while newcomer Owen Vaccaro impresses, especially during the scenes in which he simply has to play the awkward kid at school.
Feeding off a Stranger Things vibe, the child dynamic works really well, ticking all the boxes of your coming-of-age tale; parental abandonment, bullying, betrayal, and girls. There’s a real affable, light-hearted nature to scenes that tip a hat to 90s fare like The Explorers.
However, for all the playfulness of The House with a Clock in its Walls, Roth can’t resist the temptation to throw in some imagery that’ll have kids of all sizes checking under the bed or in the crack of the cupboard door for monsters. There’s a horrific army of dolls, assembled in a nightmarish blend of mismatched limbs and jet black eyes, who stagger towards the camera with outstretched arms, those that have them, like remnants from an R-rated movie which has now been filtered through a PG lens. But you needn’t worry too much, because for every moment that’ll give you the willies, there’s a giant hedgerow lion who farts grass mulch. Nice.
There are a litany of kids flicks similar to this – Percy Jackson, Night at the Museum – but this just about manages to tick along to its own beat in a thoroughly entertaining fashion.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter @mainstreammatt