Kyle J. Steenblik

The House With a Clock in its Walls is a Fantastic Frighteningly Fun Family Film

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The House With a Clock in its Walls
Directed by Eli Roth
Written by Eric Kripke
Based on The House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Kyle MacLachlan
Production company Amblin Entertainment, Reliance Entertainment, Mythology Entertainment, Amblin Partners
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date September 21, 2018
Running time 105 minutes
Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor, and language
4 1/2 stars out of 5
In the tradition of Amblin classics where fantastical events occur in the most unexpected places, Jack Black and two-time Academy Award® winner Cate Blanchett star in The House with a Clock in Its Walls, from Amblin Entertainment.  The magical adventure tells the spine-tingling tale of 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his uncle in a creaky old house with a mysterious tick-tocking heart.  But his new town’s sleepy façade jolts to life with a secret world of warlocks and witches when Lewis accidentally awakens the dead.

Based on the beloved children’s classic written by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is directed by master frightener Eli Roth and written by Eric Kripke (creator of TV’s Supernatural).  Co-starring Kyle MacLachlan, Colleen Camp, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Vanessa Anne Williams, Lorenza Izzo, and Sunny Suljic.

The biggest problem with family films is that they tend to bore adults and patronize children. It is a rarity that a family film is enjoyably entertaining for both adults and children without a hint of condescension, or pandering.  By that, I mean the frightening moments were not filmed or staged with a playful or goofy tone, and the playful and goofy moments are not so juvenile that only a child would enjoy it. The themes and tones are serious enough, and handled simply enough, that it is accessible and clear to the entire audience. In this respect, there does not appear to be a true single target audience, making this a true family film. What makes this all the more remarkable is that this is a film made by Eli Roth, that is like asking Lovecraft to write a child’s bedtime story, and having it work.

Where the film was weakest was in the moments between beats, between plot points, when there is not much action taking place and therefore the sequence is truncated, usually with some type of montage.  Given the character development taking place during these times, it would have been an immeasurable value for the audience to spend a little more time with Jonathan, Florance, and Lewis.  It is an unfortunate side-effect of a commercially viable film, and where the books will always have the upper hand.  I think it could have also pushed the envelope a little more with the frightening elements.  While there were few punches pulled, it was understandably restrained, I just can’t help but feel there were a few moments that could have used a little more terror—family friendly terror—just to add a little spice, and make the laughter after all the sweeter.

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