Movie Review: “The House with a Clock in its Walls”
The House with a Clock in its Walls
After the deaths of his parents, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) moves to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). However, he is also meeting his mysterious uncle for the first time. When he arrives, Lewis is quickly thrown into the bizarre world of his uncle. Uncle Jonathan is a mysterious man who lives in a mysterious house and is accompanied by an equally mysterious woman, Jonathan’s neighbor, Florence (Cate Blanchett). Lewis is unable to explain the things he has seen, so Jonathan tells Jim that the house is filled with magic, Florence is a powerful witch, and he is a warlock.
Lewis is at first shocked by all of this, but quickly decides that he wants to learn to be a warlock. The house is a magical place, and Lewis is a great student of magic. Unfortunately, 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 gongs reach one.
The Pros & Cons
The Cast (+4pts)
Adult Banter (-2pts)
The Tone (+6pts)
Plot Devices (-5pts)
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 mysterious adult in a kids horror movie with Goosebumps. There is nothing incredibly special with his performance here but he plays the role well. He is mysterious but also silly. This is the perfect combination for a kids movie like this one.
Cate Blanchett’s performance was similar. There was nothing special but she was mysterious, silly, and her character has a lot of heart. Then there is Owen Vaccaro. I always get a little nervous when I see kids in big roles, even though I have not seen a kid destroy a movie with their bad performance in a while. Owen Vaccaro does a fine job in this movie. Was his performance perfect? No, but he made his character easy to root for, and hit all the necessary emotion and humor. Lewis is the heart of this story and Owen carries this weight effectively.
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 are close friends, and the filmmakers thought that the best way to convey this to the audience quickly, was to have them insult each other back and forth. For the most part, this banter does not continue throughout the rest of the movie. It is almost exclusively in the scene where we meet 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 were not in a romantic relationship. 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 towards each other through the rest of the story.
Pro: The Tone (+6pts)
I really just enjoyed the overall tone of this movie. It was a horror-like movie, but it was definitely aimed at kids. It has a silly sense of humor that kids will enjoy but it also had a very tame level of horror. Will adults be scared by this movie? Absolutely not, but the movie is not for adults. I thought it had the right level of horror for kids. It is spooky but was never too overwhelming. This is mixed with the light hearted silly nature of the movie, that will have adults and kids laughing together. The filmmakers nailed the tone for this story and ended up making a movie that is perfect for families looking to get in the Halloween spirit.
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 seemed exaggerated, which took me out of the movie for a moment or two. There are a couple of scenes where this happens. One is a scene where Lewis is apologizing and another where Lewis is trying to perform his own magic.
For 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, while watching the characters. These two scenes pulled me out of it and reminded me of the performers. Owen is very over exaggerated (even for a silly movie like this) but I do not feel like it was his fault. In all other scenes, this kid is a strong performer. This leads me to believe that the director failed to tell him to dial it down a bit for these distracting moments.
Pro: Magic (+6pts)
I assumed the magic in this movie would be very typical. I expected fire balls and floating objects but, while we get both of those things, we get 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 come on, one of the chairs is basically a dog and a giant lion bush sculpture acts like a house cat). There is a lot of cool magic in the house, which was entertaining, 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 is at stake but, for whatever reason, the main character is the only one who is capable of stopping the antagonist? In how many of those movies was the main character simply born into this responsibility? 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 begins 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 it within him from the beginning.
Con: Plot Devices (-5pts)
While just a kids movie, the filmmakers resorted to lazy plot devices throughout this story. Lewis is trying to prove to his friend that magic is real. Does he simply levitate something as he had been shown being able to do at this point? No of course not, instead he decides to break the one rule that Jonathan had (because logic). 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 resorts to coincidences as plot devices. One example regards the magic eight ball in the film’s climax, but I will not get into the details here. Another example is in reference to a code that Florence (a witch who knows every form of magical script) cannot decipher. I am not going to give away what the solution is, but if you see the movie, the decoding scene will leave you asking yourself “really?”. These were just a few examples of lazy writing, but there were plenty more throughout the story.
Grade: B- (84pts)
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 intend to do different things. With The House with a Clock in its Walls the filmmakers were not aiming for “compelling” characters or a “riveting“ plot. There number one objective was to entertain kids and families.
The House with a Clock in its Walls serves its purpose. The filmmakers delivered a fun fantasy story about a boy learning magic from his mysterious uncle. The movie has horror themes but is never too intense for kids. It tends to play as a bit silly which works because, again, the movie’s number one priority is trying to entertain kids, and they needed something to offset the spookiness. The movie is s horror-like 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, but it will entertain families with a spooky and silly vibe that is perfect for getting your family in the Halloween spirit.