Hot Take: Kind of fun, sort of funny and even a little spooky. An unexpected surprise from director Eli Roth.
It’s the time of year where we’re treated to a run of horror flicks out to scare the crap out of you. The trick is to find that rare Halloween flick which manages to celebrate the Halloween season without relying on hacking and slashing its way to frightening the audience. Every year, we get at least one and this year, The House With A Clock In Its Walls is the Halloween entry which aims to accomplish that feat. Surprisingly, the film is directed by Eli Roth who has previously gone down the path of blood and gore with films like Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel II, Knock Knock and The Green Inferno. Moving in a different direction in 2018, Roth previously directed the remake of Death Wish starring Bruce Willis. The results weren’t the best but it was good to see Roth take a different route to attempt to entertain the audience as the director clearly is talented. Roth’s second step away from his normal shock horror is The House With A Clock In Its Walls. Still more of a horror movie than anything, it’s a different kind of horror film. More family friendly, the film is fun and funny even if it does run out of steam as it reaches its third act. There, the special effects take over and if you’re invested by then, you’ll forgive the film’s faults and overall, The House With A Clock In Its Walls successfully delivers an entertaining 105 minutes in the theater.
In 1955, recently orphaned Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Uncle Jonathan lives in a strange, old house where he has only one rule: Don’t open the locked cabinet in the middle of the house. Lewis quickly finds out that Jonathan is a warlock and lives in a house owned by a powerful, evil warlock named Isaac (Kyle MacLachlan) who died conjuring a spell in the house. With the help of neighbor Florence (Cate Blanchett), a much more powerful witch, Jonathan teaches Lewis about magic and prepares the 10-year-old to become a warlock himself. While Jonathan spends his day working with Lewis on magic, he spends his night trying to find the source of the ticking within the walls of the house as Isaac and his wife Selena (Renee Elise Goldsberry) built a powerful clock which is presumed to be counting down to something sinister which neither Jonathan nor Florence know the full extent of what will happen if the clock ever reaches its count down.
Obviously, with Black as one of the adult leads, the film is filled with humor. Blanchett is also funny and adds some credibility to the film with her pedigree. The young star of the film is Vaccaro and delivers a strong performance in the main role. The film celebrates nerdy weirdness in the vein of Harry Potter and Vaccaro fits the role almost perfectly. Previously, Vaccaro delivered a funny performance as one of the kids in Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2 and can be added to the growing list of young actors worth keeping an eye on. Roth’s eye for horror is also prevalent and does the 1973 children’s novel it is based on justice.
Now that summer is over, the more frivolous popcorn flicks will be few and far between. Even as a frivolous popcorn flick, The House With A Clock In Its Walls feels a little bit different and that’s a huge plus. From a pure filmmaking side of things, Roth’s presence elevates the film on the horror front including great visual effects and gorgeous gothic cinematography. When other filmmakers have gone down the path of more family-friendly fare, there’s always the risk the film defangs the filmmaker but Roth seems to retain his edge as The House With A Clock In Its Walls manages to make some bold choices that might even scare off some younger audience members or alienate some more discernible parents. However, it mostly works and The House With A Clock In Its Walls is the front-runner for this year’s best Halloween contribution.
You’re curious to see what Roth can do when he doesn’t rely on shock.
You already saw Jack Black in Goosebumps and it just didn’t work for you.