UK Release Date: 21st September 2018
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Eli Roth
Writer: Eric Kripke
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo, Renée Elise Goldsberry
Synopsis: A young boy is introduced to magic when he moves in with his rather wacky uncle after the death of his parents, living in a house that has a ticking clock within its walls.
The prospect of an Eli Roth-directed family movie is something of a head-scratcher. This is a man known for the dangling eyeball in Hostel and the brutal cannibalism of The Green Inferno, rather than something you can bring your 12-year-old kid along to see. Nonetheless, The House With a Clock In Its Walls has now arrived in cinemas and there’s a sense that Roth may have found his calling. The inherent limitations of a child-friendly certificate, combined with his dark sensibilities, have created something that channels the delightful spirit of Doctor Who and Harry Potter to produce chills and thrills. It’s a movie that features malevolent pumpkins, but also giant topiary animals that poop everywhere. There’s a balance to be found, and Roth knows how to make it work.
The terrible title refers to the gothic mansion house inhabited by warlock Jonathan (Jack Black), who sends a chocolate-stained letter to nephew Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) inviting him to live at the house following the death of his parents. Jonathan and neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett) begin to teach the shy loner the ways of magic while trying to decipher the meaning of the ticking within the building, seemingly connected to the evil warlock (Kyle MacLachlan) who previously owned the house.
What follows is a knockabout odyssey of family-friendly horror and fantasy. Much like the similarly Black-starring recent Goosebumps movie from 2016, The House With a Clock In Its Walls manages a perfect blend of the silly and the terrifying. This is a film that features necromancy and blood magic, but also Cate Blanchett headbutting a pumpkin. It’s a mix that keeps the audience guessing, while moving with a pacy kineticism that seldom stops for a breath.
Black and Blanchett are brilliant at the heart of it all, aided by Owen Vaccaro’s likeable portrayal of exactly the sort of nerdy loner who would find solace in magic. He’s a far cry from the irritating kids you often find at the centre of movies like this and has real charisma as well as vulnerability. His story arc is complex and believable, enhanced by his burgeoning ability as a warlock. It combines coming-of-age seriousness with wacky visual effects and gags about melting Salvador Dali’s watch or pet serpents called William Snakespeare.
It’s not likely to join the pantheon of family classics, but The House With a Clock In Its Walls is an enjoyably raucous couple of hours at the cinema. The darkness of Roth and the charm of the literary source material proves to be a union that delivers the best movie the director has ever made. There’s just enough of his grotesque tastes in the mix to ensure that horror fans will go home every bit as suitably scared as their children. And that’s a very good thing.
Pop or Poop?
Family-friendly comedy meets just the right amount of the macabre in The House With a Clock In Its Walls, which shows that a little bit of Eli Roth’s taste for the gruesome goes a long way. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett prove to have great comic chemistry and the fantasy-tinged action is shot with a real sense of energy and colour. If only Roth had made films like this for the last two decades rather than needless attempts to shock and disgust.
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