Written By: Zane Brumley / Media Contribution by: James Faynik
Director Eli Roth’s film adaptation of the popular children’s novel The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a fun movie that feels like a horror movie for 7-year-olds. In fact, while in the theater, the kid in front of me said to his mother, “Mom, I’m scared. I don’t want to watch anymore.” A few minutes later, the same kid was laughing at one of the comedic scenes. This film is excellent at changing the tone from scene to scene. One moment, it’s about as spooky as an old Goosebumps episode, then it has lighthearted laughs for a minute, followed by a heartfelt scene about past traumas. I’ve got to give it to Roth, he really pulled off something special for a children’s horror flick.
Perhaps the strongest part of the film comes down to the superb casting. I never would have imagined the odd combo of Jack Black playing Jonathan Barnavelt and Cate Blanchett playing Mrs. Zimmerman to work, but it is fantastic. The pair play off each other well and the banter between them helps break up the all spooky. I wouldn’t complain if I saw these two together again. Not only are those two great, but the child actors aren’t bad either. Owen Vaccaro plays Lewis, the lead character of the film. At first, I was a little hesitant to say whether or not I enjoyed his portrayal, but about 20 minutes into the movie, he seemed much more comfortable within the role.
!RED ALERT! SPOILERS AHEAD
The weakest parts of the film’s production are the visual effects. For the most part, they are decent. A little lightning here, some telekinetic there– it was all fairly tame. I wasn’t expecting anything wild like Doctor Strange, but I did expect the quality to be higher than television standards. The ugliest part of the film came from a moment in the final act when Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) turns Jonathan’s body into a baby…except for his head. His head was all CGI with the body, but because we all know what Jack Black’s face is like, the uncanny valley was glaring. I don’t know what led to that CGI nightmare.
The other weakness of the film that stood out to me came from some unusual story elements. I’m aware that the movie is based on a novel of the same name by John Bellairs, so I’m unsure how accurate of an adaptation it is. There are two moments in the plot that I wasn’t a big fan of. The first was how they treated Tarby (Sunny Suljic) and the second was with Rose Rita Pottinger (Vanessa A. Williams). Tarby is Lewis’ friend for most of the film until he wins the election for class president. Rose reveals to Lewis that this is normal and happens every year after he wins. That was all fine and done, but that plot felt unresolved to me. Tarby simply changed from being a friend to being a bully, and then he had no redemption or decent explanation. This leads into my second issue: what’s up with Rose? She doesn’t speak for most of the film. She gives odd looks and notices whatever Lewis is doing, but she doesn’t really speak to him. Not until she tells Lewis about Tarby, and even then, she doesn’t speak again until the end of the film where they seem to form a friendship. Perhaps it went over my head on these two moments, but they seemed to stick with me when reflecting on the plot.
Despite the few flaws in the film, it is an outstanding success in my eyes. I mean, going into this movie, I didn’t expect it to be the rollercoaster that it was. Lewis’ tragic backstory about being friendless and his parents’ recent death made for an interesting recovery where he finds a new friend and a new family. Mrs. Zimmerman’s story follows in the same vein when it’s revealed that her daughter died and then she joins said family. I love a good story about people hitting their low spots and coming back stronger. The House with the Clock in Its Walls is a fun children’s movie that is layered enough to be entertaining for adults, too.