Believe it or not, it’s actually possible to straddle that line between creepy and family friendly…
In a rather effective collision of genres; The House With The Clock In Its Walls truly channels the spirit of the Amblin Entertainment logo at the front of the film to give us something that serves as a delightful family friendly romp for the youngsters and an effective throwback piece of nostalgia for the parents who grew up in the 1980’s where the collision of fantasy, family values and just a sneaky little bit of horror fun were mixed together at just the right ratios.
After the tragic death of his parents, 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) goes to live with his eccentric uncle (Jack Black) in a creaky old house with a mysterious tick-tocking heart. But his new town’s sleepy façade jolts to life with a secret world of warlocks and witches when Lewis accidentally awakens the dead.
While it undoubtedly has a couple of clunky, overly cutesy moments; The House With The Clock In Its Walls is visually solid and stylish affair that actually manages to tone down one of its stars and allows another more room to vamp then they’ve had in quite some time.
This is unequivocally the best film in the directorial career of Eli Roth and it’s a pleasant surprise to see that a man, who made his name doing torture porn horror, actually has a knack for kid friendly fantasy and horror. The film looks amazing and doesn’t veer into anything too ‘cutesy-poo’ as he allows for the settings and surrounding to have a creepy and uneasy feeling to them. He’s found the sweet spot for the ‘fun kind of scared’ and he rides it from beginning to end as there’s a genuine ‘joie de vivre’ in it all that I never thought I’d find in a Eli Roth movie.
The adaptation of the book by John Bellairs from screenwriter Eric Kripke has a decent flow about it. While it does have to ham handedly hit a couple of overly kid centric moments the story stays fairly true the theme of the source material to allow the young leading man to stand on equal footing with our two adult leads in the film.
Jack Black plays eccentric pretty much in the same fashion that any of us would breath, but here he actually does bring a measure of restraint to the proceedings and it makes his Uncle Jonathan a weird yet still grounded character as he navigates the worlds of magic and being a warlock while grappling with the realities of being a care giver for another human being. He has shockingly good chemistry with Cate Blanchett as Florence Zimmerman, their best friend, neighbour and witch in her own right. It’s kind of easy to forget how good she really is as an actor as she can be either playing it all for emotion, laughs or anything else on the spectrum because she brings a sage world weary element to the narrative about these characters and their search for an alternate family dynamic while still not being afraid to fling zingers across the screen with the likes of Jack Black. Owen Vaccaro as Lewis was the right blend of precocious with a little bit of timid mixed as his character comes into the world on some emotionally shaky ground, but he plays it well and teaches an important life lesson on dealing with grief while Renee Elise Goldsberry, Colleen Camp and Kyle McLachlan round out the ensemble rather nicely.
I’ll admit that The House With The Clock In Its Walls is a little more skewed to the younger set then I expected but it has such innate charm to it that it just might delight the parents as much if not maybe a little more than their kids that they brought to see the film.