21st Dec2018

‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Colleen Camp, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo, Braxton Bjerken, Vanessa Anne Williams | Written by Eric Kripke | Directed by Eli Roth


Lewis Barnavelt, after losing his parents, is sent to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan. He discovers his uncle is a warlock, and enters a world of magic and sorcery. But this power is not limited to good people: Lewis learns of Isaac Izard, an evil wizard who constructed a magical clock with black magic, as long as it exists it will keep ticking, counting down to doomsday. He died before he could finish the clock, but he hid the clock in his house, where Uncle Jonathan now lives. Now Lewis and Jonathan must find the clock before it finishes its countdown and ends the world.

The most exciting and endearing aspect of Eli Roth’s first foray into a PG cinematic market is just how well he implements horror. It feels and echoes deliciously ghoulish fun in the same vein as the Barry Sonnenfeld expertly crafted cinema of the 90s in The Addams Family and Addams Family Values, in 1991 and 1993 respectively. A cheeky and surprisingly fresh view is brought to a genre that can work in an incrediblyB-movie fashion, without the poor inclination of obstructed subversion from many who simply cannot tame the genre at hand. The personification of pushing the boundaries of PG really livens up what is otherwise a strictly A-to-B conventional structure, injecting deep layers of fun and often emotionally poignant sequences that come in sizeable chunks. Namely the acceptance of death and its haunting fallout that consumes one in grief. Even touching upon the fallout of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust in brief scenes that bring a beautiful magnitude to a humanised story between those who are different. An idyllic childish narrative this surely is not.

The somewhat ironical comparison towards the Goosebumps franchise is in full swing, not only in blood but also in terms of body; with Jack Black opting for this over a sequel to the former franchise that isn’t quite swimming but certainly not sinking just yet. The biggest differentiation between the two is the distinction between the level of the genre both are wanting to hit. Goosebumps often prefers the magnitude of inept colourful fun, with a small remnant of a once ghoulish past and succeeds in that conviction. The House With a Clock in Its Walls fully endorses its dark brooding nature and runs with it to the final minutes, resulting in a more compelling and mature narrative that excels in the bizarre quality of the ridiculousness. Both Black and Cate Blanchett chew up as much screen time as possible in a delightfully childish manner. The latter putting forth a delicate and impactful performance that beautifully showcases the terrific range and craft that enamours in each and every character brought to screen by such a terrific actress.

The success here does lie in the fact that Roth brings a deeply engaging palette to what is otherwise ordinary proceedings. A magnitude and desire are felt in investing in plot and aesthetic; a clear example is the decision to place the story in a 50’s period piece that looks delightfully gothic on screen and thankfully not in the same vein as Tim Burton’s plastic gothic influence, but a more humanised time in the world that lacks compassion and communication. Ultimately creating a deeply investable and engaging feature that has feeling and thought…

Perhaps Roth has found his place in the world of horror after all.


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