Wednesday, October 3, 2018

31 Days of Horror 2018: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth.
2018. Rated PG, 105 minutes.
Jack Black
Cate Blanchett
Owen Vaccaro
Kyle MacLachlan
Renée Elise Goldsberry
Sunny Suljic
Colleen Camp
Vanessa Anne Williams
Lorenza Izzo
Eli Roth

After his parents have died, Lewis (Vaccaro) goes off to live with his weird uncle Jonathan (Black) in his even weirder house. We soon discover that Jonathan is a practicing warlock. As the title informs us, there is a loudly ticking clock seemingly living somewhere within the walls of his home. Jonathan, along with bestest but expressly platonic buddy Florence (Blanchett), endlessly search for it with no luck. Meanwhile, Lewis is having trouble fitting in at his new school. This is no surprise given that he's socially awkward. His home and school lives meet in a way that could have dire consequences.

Starting with its star, Jack Black, The House with a Clock in Its Walls takes lots of its cues from 2015's Goosebumps. This is particularly true early on. The tone feels the same, as does its parading out of various creatures. Eventually, it manages to find its own footing, but there are lots of precarious steps along the way. The issue is the movie sets up lots of themes, but doesn't follow through on most of them. Let's start with the setting. The year is 1955. The school Lewis attends is completely and comfortably integrated. The decision on Brown vs. Board of Education was barely a year old and schools across the nation were still struggling the idea of going to school with "the other." The film also depicts an interracial marriage at a time when such a thing was still illegal in many states. Blowing the easy layup, the film has nothing to say about this in favor of thoughtless and patronizing inclusion.

I'm willing to concede that wanting this particular movie to comment on race relations was a pipe dream. However, it also brings up something else it should definitely examine: bully culture in our schools. It's used to get Lewis to do certain things which move the plot forward, but is neither condemned nor condoned. It's also used for a few laughs before it's hopelessly shrugged at. Instead, the movie uses a character with no bearing on the plot to help deliver a generic message about being yourself. It does something similar with our main character's grief over losing his parents. It goes a bit deeper on this particular issue, but ultimately opts for a "family is what you make it" vibe.

Despite its lack of any real depth, this movie does have a few things going for it. Namely, it's entertaining. It has a real sense of fun. It moves along at a brisk pace with almost no drag. The laughs come often enough to ensure this. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett have a surprisingly good chemistry which also helps things out. Occasionally, Blanchett's acting is a bit too good for the company shes keeping, though. The film relies on her for any emotional heft and she goes for broke in several scenes, giving it her Oscar caliber best. Unfortunately, it just feels really out of place in this movie. Still, her trading playful insults with Black works wonders.

What also makes this movie fun to watch is that the horror is just tense enough for the kiddies. Along with witchcraft, we eventually get into undead territory. Included throughout are some nice visuals, some creepy, some not as much. I hate to keep referring back to Goosebumps, but this is about on that same level as far as frights go. Again, the frustrating thing is that there could've been more without sacrificing the film's rating. The easiest to spot is the underused Griffin running around. Rather than being used to ramp up the intensity, he's mostly relegated to poop jokes. The job of comic relief should've been left to the sentient chair living in the house. However, it doesn't have quite enough personality to make it work as well as the movie wants it to.

It's rare that I actually panic during the opening credits. Yet, that's exactly what I did when the words "Directed by Eli Roth," flashed across the screen. I had no idea he was involved. I let out an audible groan and started to prepare for a crappy gore-fest. Then I remembered this was a PG-rated fam-friendly fantasy/horror flick. At that thought, I became curious. This just seems so far away from his wheelhouse that he wouldn't be let within a thousand yards of the set. But here he is. And honestly, he doesn't do too bad. He doesn't care about old farts, like me, who might be looking for the film to "say something" and goes right after creating a sense of wonder in younger viewers. He manages that. The House with a Clock in Its Walls is no world-beater, but it's a fun, if flawed, way to pass the time.


  1. As an admirer of Eli Roth, I'm likely going to see this on TV as I do commend him for wanting to do something different and get out of his comfort zone a bit.

    1. He's certainly out of his comfort zone, but he acquits himself pretty well.

  2. I like Eli Roth because he genuinely loves horror movies. I'm kind of miffed my kid and husband went to this without me. lol

    1. It sucks you didn't get to go with them. It's a solid family horror flick.

  3. Yeah, I agree. It's really well-done as a kiddie horror flick, Blanchett and Black are fun together, the production design and makeup effects are cool to look at, but it's no great shakes. I did enjoy myself though, and I think I would have enjoyed it much more when I was eight years old.

    1. Oh, I can absolutely see a lot of people in 20 years going back to this and saying to themselves that it wasn't as good as they remembered it being when they were kids.

  4. I will wait u til I can rent the DVD. I love Cate Blanchett but I am not a fan of Jack Black so we’ll see if I like it

  5. I saw the trailer in cinemas a few months ago but it didn't impress me so I passed. Maybe I'll check it out when it's on DVD or something.