The House with a Clock in Its Walls
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is Goosebumps Lite, featuring an appropriately spooky atmosphere, thanks to horror-master Eli Roth's direction, but falls flat in the story department, despite Jack Black's usual brand of comedy blending together well with Cate Blanchett's charms.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls delivers on the direction; the atmosphere is appropriately spooky, while the creatures provide enough jumps for the kiddos, but the rest of the film is rather tedious, focusing on its age demographic by way of fart noises and plot non-sense that really doesn’t add up.
After the loss of his parents, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Lewis finds out rather quickly that his uncle is a witch and that his neighbor (Florence, played with a smile by Cate Blanchett) also has a bit of a magical past.
Florence and Jonathan quickly recruit Lewis to help them unravel mysteries left by the previous owner, which no joke includes a ticking clock IN THE WALLS. Smart title, aye?
The rest of the film unfolds with a very scripted feel. Most of the film’s laughter and excitement is at the expense of a silly joke and that might not immediately sound like a problem. It does eventually grow old and suddenly the movie is left feeling like a decent visual of Halloween haunts for the little ones, but not much of anything else for the older kids or adults.
This is where Goosebumps excelled and managed to be a heck of a lot of fun. That film had momentum that was pushed forward by a delightful cast and a story that was truly fun and adventurous, if not slightly familiar.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls falls flat in the fun department. I recognize Eli Roth‘s horror chops and ability to translate to a new demo with visual ease. The film looks gorgeous, soaked in its era and backed by a premise that promises more scares than it actually delivers.
The last act of the film both looks and feels cheap, like a completely different movie than what was set up before it. Roth doesn’t bother sharpening Eric Kripke‘s dull script and instead rides it out until the very end, which makes for a mostly uneventful film that doesn’t ever add up to anything special or memorable, besides a few decent performances.
I say decent, because Jack Black really doesn’t do much of anything important in the film. He’s not as weirdly likable as he was in Goosebumps and he’s definitely not all that funny. He mostly seems tired and unengaged with the material.
Cate Blanchett on the other hand gives it her all, as usual. She’s charming and layered, with her character’s past slowly revealing itself when the film deems it necessary. She’s not reinventing the wheel, but at the very least she’s proving to be a reliable co-star.
Owen Vaccaro never quite hits the sweet spot as the film’s leading boy. He’s an outlier at school, but that’s rarely explored, yet he misses his mom and dad dearly, which is explored a bit more, but not nearly enough. I don’t fault him completely, because he really only works within the means of the script, which is severely lacking depth and purpose.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a movie that I was hoping would really kick off this year’s Halloween movie season. Unfortunately, it doesn’t deliver on anything that the trailers promised and makes me sad knowing that we won’t be seeing Jack Black return in Goosebumps 2, which could have the potential to be a solid entry in the now-series. Here’s to hoping it’s not as awful as it looks, because this one just isn’t worth the troubles of dragging the kids to the theater.