Film Review: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

09:20 September 25, 2018
By: David Vicari

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a charming fantasy/horror/comedy and is perfect fall/Halloween viewing. It's based on the classic 1973 children's mystery novel by John Bellairs, and concerns suddenly orphaned Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), who is shipped off to live with his mischievous Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a spacious but creepy mansion. It turns out Jonathan is a good warlock, and his straight-laced neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett, who looks fetching in purple), is a witch. These two constantly bickering adults teach Lewis their magic, and this results in many funny moments. 

The film's tone gets serious when Lewis learns of his uncle's dead friend, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), who had made a pact with a demon, and who has also hidden a doomsday clock – created by black magic – somewhere in the walls of Jonathan's mansion.

The movie is directed by – of all people – horrormeister Eli Roth, who is responsible for gore-a-thons like Cabin FeverHostel, and The Green Inferno. I am not a fan of those films, but I was alone in giving Roth's Death Wish remake positive notice. However, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is his best film to date, for it is extremely well directed. It unfolds like a good novel, revealing a little at a time and building towards something. Roth also delivers some really creepy moments. Just know that there are a few scenes in a room full of porcelain dolls, and there is also a demon guy with glowing eyes.

From the set designs to the costumes, the movie looks great, complementing its 1955 setting very well. And the visual effects are pretty nifty too, like those monster pumpkins and Jack Black throwing fireballs.

The best part for me was the chemistry between Black and Blanchett. They work so great together! And as the young protagonist, Vaccaro has a likable screen presence.

Now, the story is fairly predictable, but The House with a Clock in Its Walls is so entertaining that you won't care. 

*** out of four

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