Movie Review: ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ is a fine kids film
Director: Eli Roth
Writers: Eric Kripke, John Bellairs
Stars: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro
Synopsis: Recently orphaned Lewis Barnavelt must help his warlock uncle find and stop a clock that could bring about the end of the world.
The House with the Clock in its Walls, both the original John Bellairs novel and the film, is meant to be an introduction to the horror genre for kids. I think it succeeds in this mission. It’s not too scary, but it does have enough of a spooky/ominous overtone to make it feel like a real horror film. The movie is written by Eric Kripke (creator of the Supernatural TV series), who has stated John Bellairs’ novel was one of his favorites growing up. Kripke even says he pulled inspiration from this book for Supernatural. The movie is apparently littered with references to the show- I caught a few of them, but I’ve only seen up to season 12 so there may be more.
The story centers around the recently orphaned Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who is sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan. Lewis is a smart kid with a love for words and his dictionary. His uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), lives in a large, creepy, old house that makes weird ticking noises at night and is filed with strange things. Lewis also meets his uncle’s neighbor and best friend Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), who spends most of her time at Jonathan’s house. Lewis soon learns that his new home is more than it seems and that his uncle and neighbor can do magic.
As far as the characters go, I really liked Jack Black in this. He’s usually hit or miss for me, but this role seemed to suit him and his character was one of the most developed. Cate Blanchett was amazing, as usual. She pulls off the quirky and mysterious Florence Zimmerman very well. You are given hints at her tragic backstory if you are paying attention. (Tip: keep an eye on her arms). The main protagonist Lewis, is portrayed by newcomer Owen Vaccaro. Vaccaro does a good job holding his own against the star power of Black and Blanchett. His character is relatable for kids his age and I felt for him and his struggles to fit in. Director Eli Roth has small cameo, so keep an eye out.
Warning to book fans; the movie is different. It’s hard to convert even a small children’s book into a two hour movie, but I think overall, the movie does the story justice. One positive note and fun fact is the same illustrator from the novel also contributed to the movie’s opening and closing credits.
Overall, this film felt a bit rushed. I wanted the movie to go into more detail about Florence’s past. She’s such a good character and we never learn a lot about her. I also wanted to know more about how magic works in this universe, and more time spent with Lewis learning magic from his uncle. These complaints are all typical for a book to movie adaptation. The major complaint I have is the villain. I don’t believe he was well defined and his portion of the movie was not enough to solidify his role as antagonist for me. There is also a scene during the third act of the film involving the antagonist and Jack Black’s character that kind of ruins the ending. I won’t give it away, but you WILL know when you see it. I haven’t finished the book so I’m not sure if it was pulled from there or if it was thrown in the movie for comedic relief. The point is, it was disturbing, bad CGI and because of it I can’t really remember what else was going on during the end of the film.
To wrap things up, I did enjoy this movies despite its faults. I think it was a good first attempt at a non-R rated movie for Eli Roth and I will definitely go finish the book (and its sequels) because I want to know more about these characters.
Overall Grade: B-