By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Director/producer Eli Roth,
whose work includes gritty, grown up action-packed movies such as “Hostel,” “Grindhouse” and this year’s “Death Wish” remake, does an about-face and opts for giddy, ghoulish fun with “The House with a Clock in its Walls.”
Adapted from John Bellairs 1973 children’s horror novel of the same name, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” from screenwriter Eric Kripke (TV’s “Supernatural”), is a goofy movie that despite its often slow, meandering parts, surprisingly works. Of course, having Jack Black and Oscar-winner Cate Blanchette in “cuckoo” mode adds to its fun and silliness.
It’s 1955 and little Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro, “Daddy’s Home 2”) is on a bus headed to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and TV’s “Drunk History”) because his parents were tragically killed. Still mourning their deaths, Lewis has a Magic 8-ball that he uses to try and communicate with them.
The super-smart, nerdy 10-year-old kid also lugs around dictionaries, sports tweed jackets and even wears goggles.
Lewis has a lot to adjust to when he arrives in Michigan.
At school, he’s often teased and bullied by the bigger kids until he’s briefly befriended by the school jock, Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic, “The Killing of a Sacred Deer”).
However, it’s Uncle Jonathan’s dusty and spooky house that really gives him the creeps. It’s a spacious, dark, haunted mansion that’s referred to by the kids in the neighborhood as “The Slaughter House.” It has numerous clocks on the walls. The reason is to drown out the loud ticking of a clock that was secretly hidden in the house’s wall by the previous owner, but Uncle Jonathan hasn’t been able to find it.
There are also things in the house that go bump during the day and night like a scampering puppy chair that Uncle Jonathan has sort of trained. Then there are the bright, stained glass windows with inanimate objects that spring to life as well as a self-playing organ and a sphinx topiary with a serious case of irritable bowel syndrome.
Oh, and we can’t forget the wacky, next door neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Blanchette, “Ocean’s Eight”). She’s a powerful witch who more than holds her own against Uncle Jonathan’s trash talking which is another highlight of the movie.
Lewis has little choice but to embrace his weird, new lifestyle. And when he discovers that Uncle Jonathan is a warlock with magical powers, he wants to be part of this dark and mysterious world.
Once Uncle Jonathan teaches Lewis the mystical machinations of sorcery, Lewis begins to use his powers and among other things accidently raises a warlock from the dead known as Isaac Izard (a terrific Kyle MacLachlan, TV’s “Portlandia”).
Izard, along with his wife Selena, (Renee Elise Goldsberry, TV’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”) are connected to the mansion. They soon test Uncle Jonathan and Florence and this sets up a battle between good versus evil as the fate of humankind hangs in the balance.
“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” brims with fantastical goblins and creatures. It packs just enough of a frightening punch for its young, targeted audience and yet is a whimsical delight that even adults can enjoy.
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Watch This Trailer For "THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS"
Lana K. Wilson-Combs is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics’ Association (BFCA), The Black Film Critics Circle and a Nominating Committee Voting Member for the NAACP Image Awards.