The House With a Clock in Its Walls
dir Eli Roth
scr Eric Kripke
prd Brad Fischer, Eric Kripke, James Vanderbilt
with Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Sunny Suljic, Colleen Camp, Vanessa Anne Williams, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Lorenza Izzo, Braxton Bjerken, De'Jon Watts, Christian Calloway
release US/UK 21.Sep.18
18/US Amblin 1h44
The House With a Clock in Its Walls
Learning new tricks: Vaccaro, Black and Blanchett

maclachlan suljic camp
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The House With a Clock in Its Walls Based on the beloved 1973 novel, this child's horror film is given a special kick by having proper freak-out director Eli Roth at the helm. He makes the movie creepy in a way that kids will love. Meanwhile, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett provide some star power that's thoroughly engaging, mixing comedy with mystery and even having some fun with the effects-based mayhem.

In 1955, after his parents died in a car accident, precocious 10-year-old Lewis (Vaccaro) goes to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Black) in Michigan. But Jonathan's gothic home is seriously odd, as is his friendly neighbour Mrs Zimmerman (Blanchett). When magical things start happening, Lewis discovers that Jonathan is a mediocre warlock, Mrs Zimmerman is a gifted witch, and both are looking for a clock hidden in the walls by the house's previous owner, the wizard Isaac (McLachlan). And the clock seems to be counting down to doomsday.

As this central mystery develops, the decidedly offbeat Lewis struggles in his new school. He befriends a tough kid (Suljic), with predictable results. And at home Lewis starts studying magic, learning to do tricks himself and getting into some serious trouble too. All of this is told from Lewis' perspective, giving the film a sort of Harry Potter vibe, although Lewis is younger and the story is deliberately sillier. (There are also 12 books so far in this series.)

The likeable Vaccaro is superb as a cheeky young boy who embraces his quirkiness. He has some terrific comical and dramatic moments along the way, often interacting with witty effects. And Black and Blanchett are a superb double act, exchanging insults with gusto while quietly stirring some subtextual chemistry into the mix. Together, these three make a team that's easy to root for as they take on what seems like an increasingly impossible task. Not that we ever doubt them for a second.

Yes, the childishness of the whole thing kind of eliminates any real suspense, but Roth continually throws in some genuinely nasty touches, from a room full of sinister dolls to a garden of malevolent pumpkins. The running gags are less successful (including one about a topiary griffin with bowel issues), but the script's sharper jokes more than make up for those. And it's particularly important that Roth remembers how sophisticated kids are, offering them some decently unsettling moments along with the solid messages about bullying and family.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 3.Sep.18

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