Updated: Jun 23, 2019
"The House with a Clock in its Walls” is directed by Eli Roth, and stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. It is the story of a young orphan named Louis who after a tragedy moves in with his uncle who he learns is a warlock searching for a clock trapped within the walls of his house that has the power to bring about the end of the world.
Eli Roth up until now has been primarily known for horror films. He makes very gory films and this is a bit of a departure for him. This is a PG-rated family movie and I was very surprised to see him in at the top of his game here. Personally, I've never been a huge fan of Eli Roth's movies. Because they display a level of immaturity that is not suited for me. Fortunately, this is probably my favorite film of his. I think that he has brought something to this film that allows it to be a little boundary-pushing in regards to what can be in a PG-rated family horror film because there is some imagery in this movie that I can see a lot of kids being very disturbed by. For example, there is a scene where a character makes a blood oath with a demon to give him knowledge. Situations like that in the film may be too intense for some families to handle.
For myself, these horrific experiences were very integral to me as a kid. For example, when I saw something in a movie that didn’t actually disturb me as a kid, I wanted to know more. I became fascinated with haunted houses, Halloween, scary stories, and horror films. I especially respect films that come to a younger demographic with an edge, but children can still watch them. And this film is aimed at young children like that who other people might consider weird. For example, a major theme of the film is that being weird is great. Cate Blanchett’s character says that it's “the nuts in her cookies that make them special”. That is the message behind the film. Embrace the qualities that make you unique and different, even if others think you are strange for it.
The production design of the film is one of the best parts. It takes place in the 50s and it definitely has an aesthetic that tributes those old fashioned horror films of that time period. It also feels almost like a feature-length episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark” or the “Goosebumps” TV show, just given a much better treatment in regards to a big budget. It feels like the type of entertainment that I would have liked to see more of coming out of the 90’s when we had such great horror for kids on film and television.
The performances were also very good. Jack Black as the warlock Jonathan and Cate Blanchett as Mrs. Zimmerman, his neighbor, were magnificent. The young boy, Owen Vaccaro as Lewis is also really good as well. Together, the trio forms an improvised family that is a lot like most families, except for the fact they can all do magic. The other fact is that Jonathan’s house contains a doomsday clock left by an earlier tenant, played by Kyle MacLachlan, that will destroy all humanity unless they find a way to stop it.
The camaraderie with the family also brings a sense of humor that fits with the rest of the film. However, for myself, there is humor spread about throughout the film that feels unnecessary. My preference isn’t for some random poop jokes and one joke towards the end involving a character getting shrunk down. I don't understand why they had to be placed in the film. Because when they occur, it seems to break the classic 50’s tone that the rest of the movie wants to recreate throughout. As a viewer, I understand that as a film that is already far scarier than most PG films for kids, you have to have moments where they laugh and feel a little safe. But for me, it just took me out of the film.
I haven't liked too many of Eli Roth's films, so I didn't know what to expect going in. Overall, I feel like he has kind of revitalized himself with this film. And I would love to see what else he can do with his career going forward. I'm going give “The House with a Clock in its walls” a 7 out of 10.