The House With A Clock In Its Walls review: The prospect of a kid’s fantasy horror movie from the director of Hostel may leave some people scratching their heads. Eli Roth has made his name producing and directing a number of films with a high body counter, and even higher amounts of buckets of gore; how could such a director turn his sensibilities towards a movie for kids? The approach that Roth has landed on is to look back to a time where PG-rated movies of the 80’s, the ones that weren’t afraid to give kids a bit of a spooky time (think Something Wicked This Way Comes). This film is produced by Amblin after all.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls review

The House With A Clock In Its Walls review

The film follows orphaned Lewis (Oscar Vaccaro), who goes to live with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) after his parents untimely death. His Uncle Johnathan lives in an old creaky house filled with clocks, but that’s far from the strangest thing that goes on in that house. Lewis soon learns that his Uncle is a Warlock, and that his kindly neighbour Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a witch. They take Lewis under their wing, just in time to face an evil that is lurking within the house, one which could very well lead to the end of days.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls establishes its Amblin pedigree pretty early on. Its set in the 50’s, giving it the retro vibes of Back to the Future, while the sense of mystery is something found across everything from ET and The Goonies. The spirit is most definitely there, with the film being particularly akin to Brad Silberling Casper in terms of tone, in that it has a lot of fun with its broad horror elements but also has an emotional undercurrent it the proceedings which gives the film some heart.

Roth undoubtedly nails that Amblin tone for the most part. Where he slightly stutters is in terms of pacing. His world building is a little too rushed, too keen to show the supernatural elements at play, undercutting moments of mystery by playing its hand a little too quickly. The plot also take a little while to get going, with the film lacking incident in the moments of Lucas getting to grips with his magical powers and trying to fit in at school. The beats are familiar, and there’s something comforting about it, but ultimately isn’t that involving and surprisingly a little bland.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls review

The film does kick up a gear once a the more evil supernatural elements come into play and the plot beefs up the stakes. Kyle MacLachlan is a little wasted under a bunch of prosthetics, but the introduction of his evil warlock gives the film a good surge of excitement, with Roth clearly having a ball with some of the darker images that comes hand in hand with his chief antagonist. Some of the more surreal images in the final third also have a wicked sense of humour guiding them, it’s just a shame that that command of the visual humour wasn’t there earlier in the film.

Where the magic truly lies in this film is amongst its cast. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett have a wonderful chemistry together, finding a spiky patter with the dialogue, convincing as two friends that have a long friendship together. The acting form the kids is also particularly strong, with Vaccaro often landing the more emotional elements of his orphaned character, while also playing up to his oddness. Sunny Suljic, soon to be seen in Jonah Hill’s Mid 90’s, also impresses, and it helps the Amblin vibes that he looks uncannily like a young Corey Feldman.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is certainly fun enough and there’s a great deal of charm brought in by its cast. But it lacks enough visual invention or involving incident to make all that spellbinding, with Roth seemingly holding back from time to time. Yet there is enough Amblin charm on display and enough moments of wicked sense of humour to make this supernatural fantasy a fun enough time at the movies that should play well in the build up to Halloween.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls review by Andrew Gaudion, September 2018.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls is released in UK cinemas on 21st September 2018.

The House With A Clock In Its Walls