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Film Review: The House With A Clock In Its Walls

Director:   Eli Roth

Cast:    Owen Vaccaro,  Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Sunny Suljic, Colleen Camp, Lorenza Izzo, Vanessa Anne Williams

Rating:   PG

Running Time:   105

Australian Distributor:   Entertainment One Films


The House with a Clock in its Walls is not what you’d expect from Eli Roth, the torture-horror aficionado director. That isn’t to say there are no traces of nastiness and scares, but it’s certainly his most accessible feature to date.  

Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is a young lad with a love for dictionaries which makes him a little strange and alone. Lewis’ parents have died so he moves to Michigan under the care of eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) who lives in a supposedly haunted house, where the walls tick and nothing is what it seems.

Eli Roth does manage to pull off a mostly entertaining movie that fits into this back catalogue of family-friendly productions. He doesn’t lose the horror edge though; there are nightmares to be had for kids growing up to appreciate the genre, thanks to visuals of creepy dolls, animated pumpkins spewing their guts, and perhaps the most terrifying sight of Jack Black going ga-ga like you’ve never seen him before.

At 100 minutes, the film does feel a stretch too long, but come the red crackling showdown of Lewis, his uncle and a dependable neighbour in the form of Florence (Cate Blanchett) against a blast from the past, the story comes alive with some energy.

As for the setting of The House with a Clock in its Walls, planting the events in the 1950s does wonders for the storytelling. The lack of technology gifts the movie a magic alongside the actual wizardry that occurs throughout the narrative. The inclusions of loss, togetherness, blood magic, war and shape-shifting all play a good part to conjure up a shadowy and fantastical feature for families to enjoy.

The acting by the adults is generally strong. Young Owen Vaccaro can be quite annoying. He is not the best child actor to grace the screen but he’s got enough zip to keep things from being unbearable.

Eli Roth may not get everything right, but what he does show is an astute understanding for what this film could have been, and there’s a real sincerity to it. I probably still would have really enjoyed this as a kid, but I can’t imagine it would have made much of an impact.





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