The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a delightful and fun horror movie for kids
The Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment film The House with a Clock in Its Walls comes out this week and it’s surprising for a number of reasons. First off is the fact that it’s directed by horror regular Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel). As you may have noticed, it’s not the first thing you hear about the film. It was, however, the thing everyone was talking about at the screening last night. Roth isn’t exactly known for children’s movies. The film is based on the 1973 novel of the same name by John Bellairs. The second reason it’s surprising is that, in a film that is definitely for kids, it goes to some dark places in moments. Particularly the history of star Cate Blanchett’s character. Nothing, however, that a slightly older kid can’t handle.
Here is the info on the film: “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. 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.”
Going into a Roth-directed film, I didn’t expect the sweetness behind the characters. In Lewis, you have a bright child, almost a young Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory spinoff. He’s weird (as he calls himself), a bit nerdy (this is set in the 1950s) and likes to wear goggles. He reads the dictionary for fun and he’s just lost his parents. He’s charming and naive, and a pretty darn good wizard. Jack Black’s Uncle Jonathan is wonky and strange, but in grand Jack Black style, is a cuddly old bear. Though he never really goes deep into emotion, he’s fun to watch and the uncle any kid would want. Cate Blanchett really shines here as Mrs. Zimmerman, a witch with a tragic past who is broken inside, and her magic is suffering. You could watch the joyous insult banter between Blanchett and Black for two hours and love this film. It’s a friendship where each accepts the other’s foibles and flaws, teases them about each thing, but where the caring is evident in every word. Mrs. Z has a casual and calm delivery with so much underneath that her every eyebrow raise is fascinating to watch. Owen Vaccaro’s Lewis is just the right amount of precocious. You won’t find yourself lamenting the very tiny adults of the film industry watching him.
The story is a pretty basic one for a kid’s film. Orphaned kid goes to live with a mysterious relative and finds that the house and the relative are magic. If you forget for a moment who directed this film, it’s surprising how many jump scares and creepy dolls live within it. From the sweet feel of the story, you wouldn’t expect how creepy it gets later on. (Uncle Jonathan comments on the creepiness constantly.) I know many reviews will call this a kid’s first horror movie, and they aren’t wrong. It goes from spooky to shivery weird to panic-filled (if you fear dolls like I do), then completely silly (I will not reveal it, but you’ll know the moment, believe me.)
There are a few misses with emotional moments here and there. It’s not going to make you cry like Paddington 2 or lift your heart like Incredibles 2, but you’re going to have fun. You’re going to laugh. You’ll be startled. You’re going to enjoy talking to your kids about it on the way home. Each kid is different, but I’d say that the younger ones might be a bit jumpy after a film like this, so I’d stick to slightly older kids here. If they’re okay with Goosebumps, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is probably cool for them. Overall, it’s a delightful film with a fun cast and a great story. It will also provide a teaching moment. (Something we learn about Mrs. Z can prompt discussion with older children.) Definitely worth a watch.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is directed by Eli Roth and written by Eric Kripke. The film stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Colleen Camp, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Vanessa Anne Williams and Sunny Suljic.
The film is produced by Mythology Entertainment’s Brad Fischer and James Vanderbilt as well as Kripke. It is executive produced by William Sherak, Tracey Nyberg, and Laeta Kalogridis.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls will be released by Universal Pictures in theaters on Friday, September 21, 2018. Are you guys excited about the film? Let us know in the comments.