The House with a Clock in Its Walls

by Toby Woollaston

8t50_d017_00131rThe House with a Clock in Its Walls is a holiday flick that neatly slides in between Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket on the bookshelf of magic and misfortune; a lengthy title, some brooding special effects, an orphan boy who learns magic, and questionable caregivers. It has become a slightly tired routine, something which I was hoping the effervescent Jack Black and brooding Cate Blanchett would breath new life into—unfortunately not.

Set in the fifties, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) after having tragically lost his parents.  Uncle Jonathan is an amiable man who is relentlessly tormented by a mysterious clock that continuously ticks within the recesses of his mansion walls. Lewis soon discovers that all is not as it seems with his uncle and his peculiar neighbour Florence (Blanchett), and that the clock Jonathan seeks holds the key to the future of the universe.

Although the film seemingly has all the accessible ingredients of broad appeal, it is hampered by two factors.  Firstly, the young’uns in the audience will most likely find it way too scary.  There are plenty of jump-scares and moments of genuine creepiness here. Perhaps Eli Roth, who’s helmed such horrors as Hostel and Cabin Fever might not have been the wisest pick to direct a family-friendly holiday flick.  Try as he might, Roth can’t keep his horror sensibilities under the bed, resulting in some fairly dark imagery; animated dolls, drops of sacrificial blood dripping onto spell books, animating the dead … you get the drift. 

Secondly, lest you think the film is pitched at an older audience, the plot seems way too rudimentary. The film gags for more complexity and humour. There are a few chuckles, but not nearly what we’ve become accustomed to from Black. As a platform for Black and Blanchett to strut their stuff, well, this renders them more Bland and Blandchett.

It’s not all bad; technically the film carries off some fairly impressive set pieces and the young talent, Owen Vaccaro, seems destined for greater things. Ultimately though, the timing of The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ is a little confused.

See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.

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