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Movie Review: “The House with a Clock in Its Walls”

There are many movies that are worth seeing, but there are a lot of stinkers as well. My goal here is to weed out the good from the bad.

The House with a Clock in its Walls

Theatrical Release: 9/21/2018

Theatrical Release: 9/21/2018

Synopsis

After the deaths of his parents, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) has to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Lewis has never met his mysterious uncle, and he is quickly thrown into the bizarre world of his uncle. Jonathan is a mysterious man who lives in a mysterious house and is accompanied by an equally mysterious woman—his neighbor Florence (Cate Blanchett). Lewis is unable to explain the things he has seen, so Jonathan tells him that the house is filled with magic, that Florence is a powerful witch, and that he is a skilled warlock.

Lewis is at first shocked by all of this, but he quickly decides that he wants to learn to be a warlock himself. The house is a magical place, and Lewis is a great student of magic, but something evil is coming. Jonathan and Florence do not know exactly what it is, but there is a large clock within the walls of the house. They do not know where the clock is or what it means, but every night it gongs and every night there is one less gong than there was the night before. Whatever is coming, Jonathan and Florence know that it is not good. Now with a child in the house, and with having heard only four gongs last night, Jonathan and Florence are more desperate than ever to find the clock and stop whatever is coming before the number of gongs reach one.

Official Trailer

The Pros & Cons

All movies start with an average score of 75pts, points are then added or subtracted based on each Pro and Con. Each Pro or Con is designated points, ranging from 0-10, to convey how significant these Pros or Cons are.

The ProsThe Cons

The Cast (+4pts)

Adult Banter (-2pts)

The Tone (+6pts)

Overacting (-2pts)

Magic (+6pts)

Plot Devices (-5pts)

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Pro: The Cast (+4pts)

Jack Black has found a new groove for himself over the past few years, as he seems to be popping up, almost exclusively, in family friendly movies. More specifically, he has already played the role of they mysterious adult-mentor in a kids horror movie with Goosebumps. There was nothing incredibly special with his performance here, but he played the role well. He was mysterious, but he was also silly, a perfect combination for a kids movie like this one.

Cate Blanchett’s performance was similar. There was nothing special about it, but she was mysterious, silly, and her character had a lot of heart. Moving onto Lewis, I always get a little nervous when I see kids in leading roles. I have not seen a kid destroy a movie with their bad performance in a while, but we have all seen enough bad performances from kids, so I think it is fair to go into these movies with low expectations. Fortunately, I thought Owen Vaccaro did a fine job in this movie. His performance was obviously not ground-breaking, but he made his character easy to root for, and he hit all his character's emotion fairly effectively. Lewis was the heart of this story, and I thought Owen carried the weight of playing a leading character relatively well

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Con: Adult Banter (-2pts)

I will keep this brief because it really was not that significant, but it was worth mentioning because of how distracting it was. Jonathan and Florence were close friends, and the filmmakers thought that the best way to convey this to the audience was to have them insult each other back and forth. For the most part, this banter did not continue throughout the rest of the movie. It was almost exclusively in the scene where we met Florence for the first time. The banter felt forced and unnatural, which made it seem like a desperate attempt to convey that these two characters were close friends, but that it was a platonic friendship. Did it work in that respect? Yes, but the exchange just felt awkward and out of place because it did not fit how the characters acted toward each other through the rest of the story.

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Pro: The Tone (+6pts)

I enjoyed the overall tone of this movie. It was a horror-like movie, but it was definitely aimed at kids. It had a silly sense of humor that kids will enjoy, but there were plenty of horror themed aspects to the story. Will adults be scared by this movie? Absolutely not, but the movie was not for adults, and I thought it had the right level of horror for a kids movie. It was spooky, but it was never too overwhelming or intense. This was mixed with the light-hearted silly nature of the characters and the story, which will have adults and kids laughing together. The filmmakers nailed the tone for this story and they ended up making a movie that was perfect for families looking to get in the Halloween spirit together.

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Con: Overacting (-2pts)

I think the culprit for this issue was poor direction over poor acting. For the most part, Owen Vaccaro did a fine job in this movie. However, there were a couple of scenes where his performance felt exaggerated, which took me out of the movie for a moment or two. There were a couple of scenes where this happened. One was a scene when Lewis was apologizing, and another was when Lewis was trying to perform his own magic.

For the majority of the movie, I was invested in what was happening and was sucked into the story. A good movie does that and makes you forget about the actors, and makes you only see the characters. These two scenes pulled me out of it and made it feel like I was watching an actor playing a part. Some of Lewis' scenes felt exaggerated, even for a silly movie like this one, but I do not feel like it was the actor's fault. Throughout the rest of the movie, this kid played his part well. This leads me to believe that the scenes that did not work were really a result of the direction more than anything else.

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Pro: Magic (+6pts)

I assumed the magic in this movie would be very typical. I expected fire balls and floating objects, and while we got both of those things, we also got a lot more. Florence’s staff was awesome, Jonathan’s solar system scene was cool, and the objects in the house were entertaining to see—I mean, one of the chairs was basically a dog and a giant lion bush sculpture acted like a house cat. There was a lot of cool, entertaining magic within the house, but this was not what I liked most about the magic.

In a world filled with movies centered around “the chosen one”, the whole concept feels over done. Let me just ask you, how many movies have you seen where the world was at stake, but for whatever reason, the main character is the only one who was capable of stopping the antagonist? In how many of those movies was the main character simply born into this responsibility, and in how many movies was that character a child or young teen? What was refreshing about The House with a Clock in its Walls was that anyone could learn to be a witch or warlock. Lewis then began to learn magic through his own determination and desire to learn. I liked the concept of Lewis having to study and learn magic. In a world filled with entitled people and entitled main characters, it was refreshing to see the main character of a kids movie working for something instead of just having him given incredibly gifts and responsibility at birth.

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Con: Plot Devices (-5pts)

While it was just a kids movie, the filmmakers resorted to lazy plot devices throughout this story. Lewis was trying to prove to his friend that magic was real. Does he simply levitate something as he had already figured out how to do? No of course not, instead he decided to break the one rule that Jonathan had, because the writers wanted tension. It was a classic example of using poor decisions as a plot device and it was disappointing to see a movie I mostly liked going down this route.

The movie also resorted to coincidences as plot devices. One example was with respect to the magic eight ball in the movie’s climax, but I will not get into detail about that to avoid spoilers. Another example was with respect to a code that Florence—a witch who knows every form of magical script—could not decipher, because the writers wanted suspense. I am not going to give away what the solution was, but know that the solution left me baffled and smacking my forehead. These were just a few examples of lazy writing, but there were plenty throughout the story, and it was disappointing to see happen so frequently.

Grading Scale

GradeCategoryPoints

A+

Amazing

95-100

A-

Great

90-94

B+

Good

85-89

B-

Decent

80-84

C+

Average

75-79

C-

Watchable

70-74

D+

Bad

65-69

D-

Terrible

60-64

F

Garbage

45-59

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Grade: B- (82pts)

When seeing or critiquing a movie fairly, it is important to see a movie for what it was intended to be. Does that mean lowering your standards? No, but your standards should be different for movies that were meant to be different things. In other words, you would not critique the plot of The House with a Clock in its Walls in the same way that you would for a movie like Inception. Doing so would be quite frankly silly, as one was meant to be a silly, Halloween, family movie, while the other was meant to be a thought provoking, mind-bending thrill-ride.

I thought The House with a Clock in its Walls served its purpose. The filmmakers delivered a fun fantasy story about a boy learning magic from his mysterious and quirky uncle. The movie had horror themes, but was never too intense for kids. It leaned into the silly, family style, which worked because the movie’s primary purpose was to entertain kids and families. The movie a horror-lite movie for kids and families. It is never too intense, and Jack Black and his supporting cast do a great of keeping the tone light. This is not an incredible movie that will have families watching and rewatching, but it will entertain families while it was on, and was a fun, spooky movie that I think families will have some fun with.

Comments

Movie Beasts (author) from MA on October 21, 2018:

Hey Pat,

I am glad you enjoyed this review and greatly appreciate your feedback. When I write, everything just flows as if it is rolling off my tongue and I clearly missed the “too exaggerated” comment in my self-review. Additionally, the title is an area where I do not tend to self-review, but I will start making sure I do so going forward.

I greatly appreciate you taking the time to inform me of these errors.

Thank you,

Bryan

Pat Mills from East Chicago, Indiana on October 21, 2018:

I'm glad you thought this was a decent film. Check your spelling on the word "review" in your title. Also, it is redundant to say that Vaccaro was too exaggerated, as exaggerated already indicates too much. Still, thanks for sharing.