What’s Up at the Movies: Review of ‘The House With a Clock in Its Walls’

Reviewed by: Kristin Russo, Rainy Day Critic

It’s a rainy day, perfect for a day at the movies.

One of the benefits of going to see a movie intended for young people on a school day is that there is virtually no one there. No one asking Mom for the iPad, no one kicking the back of my seat, no one spilling popcorn in my personal space.

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One of the challenges is that I don’t get to see the movie’s intended audience in its natural habitat. I don’t get to observe whether laughter and gasps appear where they should when Jack Black—playing Uncle Jonathan—bumbles and nearly falls to his death. This can’t possibly be a spoiler. Surely anyone attending a Jack Black movie would expect this scene, as well as the exquisitely sharp dialogue and bodily-function gags that no Jack Black movie would be without. Viewers looking forward to these things will not be disappointed.

However, in the absence of having youngsters in the audience to observe, I will do my best to review this fun and action-packed fantasy on my own. It’s the least I can do for having the cinema all to myself on a gloriously rainy day.

Set in 1955 in a gorgeous Victorian mansion filled with clocks of every kind and all manner of creepy museum relics, including a suit of armor, a magic chair, and a stained-glass window with a flair for writing, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, directed by Eli Roth, features Lewis Barnavelt, played winningly by Owen Vaccaro.

Lewis’s coming-of-age journey is like that of many epic heroes. He must slay an evil spirit with his own magic. In this way, he can become indomitable. He attempts to accomplish this goal with an ample supply of chocolate chip cookies, perhaps too many. Lewis is an orphan being raised by his loving but preoccupied warlock of an uncle who provides too few household rules. In fact, there is only one rule—do not open that cabinet.

Neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman, played by Cate Blanchett, helps Lewis find his magic. She, Uncle Jonathan, and Lewis work to piece together clues that will help them find a clock hidden in the walls of the mansion. The clock spins backwards and spells doom for all mankind if it can’t be located in time. Blanchett nails her performance of Mrs. Zimmerman, a tough-talking yet lovely and wounded good witch.

The film is fast-paced and entertaining for young and old alike. Lewis’s sweet, awkward attempts to build friendships and his unfettered access to sugar will delight young audiences, while clock-ticking existentialism and shout-outs to William Shakespeare—or rather, William “Snakes”peare—will appeal to the older crowd. A book-flying homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds  will frighten some and entertain all.

Though it is billed as a family comedy, parents should heed the film’s PG rating. There are some heart-stopping scenes involving a corpse and an army of misfit toys coming to life. Shape-changing demons and evil jack-o-lanterns add to the horror. Put it this way, I’ll never think of pumpkin slop the same way again.

The film follows an engaging story arc with even its predictable moments offering fun surprises. One cliché it could do without is the casting of a person of color as the evil temptress. Beyond that, there isn’t much to detract from this suspenseful and mysterious romp.

My view? Go see it. I can’t guarantee an empty cinema. In fact, I hope the seats will be full. This movie is worth seeing even on a sunny day.

WhatsUp RI Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WhatsUp Ratings Guide

5- Excellent – Don’t miss it
4- Very Good – Well worth your time
3- Good – Solid, but not earthshattering
2- Fair – Not quite ready for prime time
1- Poor – Don’t waste your time or money