Review by J.T. Johnson
DIRECTOR: Eli Roth
CINEMATOGRAPHY: Rogier Stoffers
WRITER: Eric Kripke
MUSIC: Nathan Barr
“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a charming little family film… with a demon! It is also a surprising departure for director Eli Roth, a man known mostly for his gore films such as “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever”. Here, he trades all of that in for a surprisingly charming if not memorable story.
The movie follows 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) in 1955. Lewis has recently lost his parents in a car crash. When the movie starts, he is in a bus awaiting the arrival of his eccentric Uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). They go to Lewis’ house where we begin to see several strange things such as a living chair and a stained glass window that can change its illustrations on a whim. As it turns out, Jonathan is a warlock and Lewis wants to be trained.
Lewis also meets Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), Jonathan’s best friend and a witch with whom they share clever yet lovable insults. It is actually the relationship between Jonathan and Florence that is one of the best in the film. Both Black and Blanchett have a genuine chemistry with one another and while I didn’t mind Vaccaro, I wish the film had focused more on Jonathan and Florence as I found their history to be far more interesting.
I should go ahead and admit that the story doesn’t really add anything new to the children’s fantasy film. The movie features witches and warlocks and that means that there are your stereotypical horror elements such as demonic Jack-o’-lanterns. Still, I couldn’t help but fall under the film’s charms and it managed to keep my interest through most of the film.
The movie has plenty of spells but I must admit that some of the special-effects, especially a particularly creepy one in the third act, could have been done better. The movie’s budget was a modest $42 million and the visual effects were sometimes sacrificed due to the lower production budget. Okay, as an example, there is a moment where Black’s character is turned into a baby yet it still has Jonathan’s adult head… It was creepy and for all the wrong reasons.
The movie has a pretty good villain with Kyle MacLachlan playing an evil warlock that has ties to Jonathan. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see too much of this villain as he tends to stay in the shadows until the third act.
This movie won’t go down in film history as some groundbreaking achievement in filmmaking. It may not even be remembered very well come this time next month. Yet, I can’t deny that the film did manage to keep me involved and I can say, at the very least, that the kids in the audience I was with seemed to also have a good time.