The House With A Clock In Its Wall is a horror-fantasy based on a children’s novel of the same name by John Bellairs. The film follows young Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) as he is sent to live with his estranged uncle in New Zebedee, Michigan after being orphaned. In this new sleepy town that could pass for Derry, Maine from IT, he will go on a magical and frightening adventure that involves a magical clock and a dangerous warlock who has risen from the dead. Eli Roth has taken the reigns on this which is surprising for the horror director, and it seems he has forgotten to bring his horror cred with him on this latest venture. Although this is a children’s story, it is as though the spine-tingling adventure is missing the spine-tingling factor. But, the film still has some nice tricks up its sleeve.
This film is a departure for the horror guru who is famous for films like Cabin Fever and Hostel. Of course, there should be no expectation that he would bring that kind of gruesome horror to this project, but the lack of any horror is troublesome considering the subject matter. If anything, the film treats the horror aspect with kiddie gloves which ultimately makes this yet another potential book-to-film franchise that doesn’t quite capture the magic of the books. It is also surprising to have Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment attached to this project, as he is famous for creating films with dark subject matters that don’t shy away from the horror and or pandering to the idea that children can’t handle the heavy stuff. It should also be noted that the fantasy and magical aspects of the film are also lackluster in its presentation, often coming across as parlour tricks rather than real magic. If the horror is not there then the magic should be on full display.
Despite these problems, the film is not without its good moments. The comedy is on point and Jack Black and Cate Blanchett make for a surprisingly entertaining duo. I wonder why they haven’t shared the screen before because the dynamic between Jonathan and Florence is so charming and endearing. Florence is an odd blend of Mary Poppins and Miss Peregrine as she is this caregiver and witch who has a killer style and is obsessed with the colour purple. She even has a magical umbrella that doubles as a wand. The two veteran actors are able to add life to this rather dull adventure, and even overcome overly theatrical performance from the precocious Owen Vaccaro. As far as kid actors go, Vaccaro isn’t the worst, but he isn’t the best either. Black and Blanchett are certainly the saving grace of the film, as they bring the magic and energy that the rest of the film cannot. In the hands of other actors, the script would not have quite worked without them either. I will be remiss not to include Kyle MacLachlan and Renée Elise Goldsberry, who are clearly having fun chewing the scenery.
The story itself is pretty basic and the film takes way too much time following Lewis at school when it should be following Jonathan and Florence’s attempts to find the magical clock in the walls. The reveal of the clock and what it is counting down to does not stick the landing as the reveal comes too late into the film and what follows is a dash to the finish line.
The House With A Clock In Its Walls is charming and is certainly entertaining enough for families, with young children. It just doesn’t quite hold up to other children horror-fantasies, despite having some really great ingredients. Perhaps the film should have had a director who is better equipped with balancing the horror and fantasy aspects in a children’s film, but this is what we are ultimately left with. If you are looking for an early Halloween treat to get you into the mood, then The House With A Clock In Its Walls may be what you are looking for.
The House With A Clock In Its Walls is in theatres now.