With every kid’s movie, there is a chance that it will be fun for the whole family or it will turn out to be something that will only entertain children. “The House with a Clock in its Walls” tends to lean toward the latter and fails to provide anything worthwhile for adults. It has decent acting and an interesting world, but can’t overcome its thin plot and dull final act.
Based off the novel of the same name, “The House with a Clock in its Walls” follows an orphaned boy named Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) in his magical house. Lewis soon finds out that his uncle is a warlock and their neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a witch who requires Lewis’s help to find the strange ticking heard within the walls.
With a unique and interesting premise and director Eli Roth attached to the film, known for his repertoire of gruesome horror films, it seemed it could have been a divergence from most children’s book adaptation movies. Roth attempts to inject some spookiness into the film, adding a few small jump scares and scary imagery. Sadly, it still falls in line with many cliches, tropes and even some potty humor that people have come to expect from kid’s films.
The main problem is the villain Isaac Izard, played by Kyle MacLachlan, who wants to end the world because he’s the bad guy. There are various threads of feelings of loss, trauma from war and what makes a person unique, but none of them are explored deeply enough to be meaningful. Many of the characters actions feel unjustified because of this and end up feeling placed to move the plot forward.
What the film does get right is creating an interesting way to cast magic. It doesn’t default to anyone being able to do it or having to move a certain way. Instead, they bring up the concept that each person can have their own unique method of casting magic. The concept is not developed fully, but it is better than a magic artifact or wand to cast spells.
The acting is also, for the most part, good. Cate Blanchett is fantastic as always and is one of the best aspects of the film. Jack Black is entertaining as always and is a good opposite to Blanchett. Their back and forth banter and chemistry really relieve the dull moments and exposition dumps.
All in all, “The House with a Clock in its Walls” cannot escape from the cheap laughs and cliches that plague many kids movies. Most adults will be counting down the seconds until the good guys win and everything turns out happy in the end.