The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a bit of an black sheep. Of course, I mean this in the best possible way.
First of all, it is coming on to the scene as a horror movie geared toward families. Kid-friendly horror hasn’t been really huge since Goosebumps was the hot jam at Scholastic book fairs, but as of late it seems to be making a comeback. This movie delivers in that while adults may find parts of it a little bit slow and predictable, kids will eat this up with a spoon. This movie is a movie that is intended to make kids love horror again. It doesn’t pander to them, but knows its limitations as family-friendly fare. It toes the line of too-far at times, but never, ever crosses it.
That in itself should be somewhat shocking, considering that this film was directed by none other than Mr. Makes-You-Squirm himself, Eli Roth. That’s right, Eli Roth. Cabin Fever. Knock Knock. Hostel. The Green Inferno. For the love of all that is holy, The Green Inferno director has directed a children’s film! I’m sure that claim alone would be enough to drive curious horror lovers to the box office, regardless of their stance on kid-horror.
The casting in this movie has a lot going for it, as well. I am finding that the more kid-friendly films Jack Black appears in, the more endearing I find him. He is still silly, to be sure, but it fits in family movies. What may have seemed over the top or ridiculous in a movie solidly geared toward adults is somewhat more toned down and appropriate in this setting. He really does create a wonderful character here, full of quirky facial expressions, good humour, and a lot of heart. Cate Blanchett plays wonderfully here as well, the stoic and talented yet very human witch. While this is not the greatest movie in her repertoire, she does a solid job, and brings out greatness in Jack Black as well.
I was happy to see this on a Sunday afternoon in a fairly crowded theater at the start of its run. I fall into the latter group of childless people who just really love horror and was intrigued to see what Eli Roth would do with PG subject matter. What I got to enjoy, however, was a theater full of kids cheering on the hero, Owen Vaccaro’s Louis. He is wonderfully weird, definitely his own person, and very distinct. I listen to them giggle and gasp, heard them lean to their parents and say, “That scared me!!!” with such undisguised delight that it made me remember the things that I loved so much as a youngster who loved the scary stuff. Plus, I got to chuckle at my fiancé jumping at some unexpected flying pigeons.
All in all, this is a movie to enjoy with some youngsters if you have some (or some that you could borrow for an afternoon). There is a lot of fun to be had here. For adults looking for Eli Roth for kids, you will be disappointed. For all of its love of horror, as an adult what kept this from being a true adult classic was that there was really never any sense of real danger. Go in expecting fun, wonder, and humour and you’ll have a great time!