Possible spoilers ahead!
“The House with a Clock in its walls” is based on the book written by John Bellairs, with illustrations by Edward Gorey. The film follows 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), who goes to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) after his parents die in a car accident. However, Lewis soon learns that Jonathan’s house isn’t normal, it’s full of ticking clocks and other strange things that scare the young boy.
The scariest thing in the house, though, is the ominous ticking that seems to be coming from within the walls. After confronting his uncle, Jonathan informs Lewis that he’s a warlock, and his next-door neighbor and friend Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a powerful witch. Lewis also learns that the man who lived in the house before Jonathan was a warlock named Isaac Izard (Kyle McLaughlin), who died mysteriously, but not before hiding a clock somewhere in the house.
Unlike most kids, Lewis doesn’t seem rattled by the news and instead pleads for Jonathan to teach him the ways of magic. Jonathan agrees and begins tutoring the boy in the mystical arts. But later in an attempt to make friends at school, Lewis summons a great evil that, along with the ominous ticking of the clock in the walls could bring destruction to the world. Now it’s up to Lewis, Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman to defeat the evil and save the day.
Although I was aware of the book “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is based on, I can’t say I’ve read it. Or if I read it as a kid, I can’t remember it. Either way, I thought the movie was a lot of fun with compelling characters and an interesting premise. It was also nice how the sets, music, and cinematography work well together to give the movie its unique look and feel.
However, I was surprised by how dark parts of the movie were. There’s stuff in this movie that scared my wifey, so I can’t imagine what it would do to a young kid. There’s bullying, bringing things back from the dead, and even body snatching. As I said, I was surprised by the darkness, but then I noticed the movie was directed by Eli Roth, and everything started to make sense.
Anyways, what made the movie work for me were the characters played by Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, and Owen Vaccaro. The script favors Jack Black’s style of comedy, and Black makes Jonathan so damn likable you can’t help but cheer for him. He’s funny and quirky, but everything he does in the movie is done with the best intentions. And I’m glad the movie explored his backstory about why he left home years ago. It’s nice to see this kind of development with a character like this.
Jack Black also has some nice chemistry with Cate Blanchett’s Florence, not in a romantic way, but in a funny way. Yes, these two are longtime friends but it’s more of a love-hate relationship than anything else. There are a couple of scenes in the movie where the two just try to top each other with insults, and it was great. I don’t know if that was in the script or not, but if it was ad-lib, then those two are great at it.
Meanwhile, Owen Vaccaro as Lewis more than holds his own against two powerhouses. His scenes with his mom are heartbreaking, to say the least. His pain and his sense of loss over his parents felt very real. Then came a scene where he spills his guts out to Jonathan and Florence. This is the scene that showed me this kid can act.
The only place where I felt “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” stumbled was is in its pacing. This movie could easily have been 10-15 shorter and the story would not have suffered because of it. There were just a couple of parts where I felt things slowed down too much, mostly in the first half of the film. Because of this, there are sections of the film (like Lewis’ magic training) that weren’t given as much time as it deserved.
“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” comes from horror director Eli Roth. He’s the man responsible for some of the worst movie I’ve seen this century, movies like “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel.” Had I knowns he was behind the camera for this movie, I probably would have skipped it altogether. But had I done that, I would have missed out on a surprisingly dark, fun, and entertaining movie.
“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” score: B