The House with a Clock in its Walls
The House with a Clock in its Walls pretty much solidifies that Eli Roth has bad taste.
Six months after his schlocky, poorly-timed Death Wish remake, the director of the Hostel films and The Green Inferno tries his hand at family-friendly, supernatural movies and fares nearly as poorly.
Based on the young adult novel by John Bellairs — all but unknown beyond a microcosm of niche audiences and only of note to a small subset of the general public who light up when learning that Edward Gorey did the illustrations — the film starts out sweetly enough as new orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro, Daddy’s Home) comes to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in late-‘50s New Zebedee, Michigan.
Within the titular domicile, plentiful magical things occur around the kind-hearted boy and, fortified by the presence of mysterious and appealing neighbor Florence (Cate Blanchett), the environment and its players seem to be a ripe combination for fun, mischievous sorcery to occur, especially once Jonathan reveals he’s a warlock and teaches his nephew the family trade.
That potentially, however, is promptly squandered in the name of dumb character decisions and a plot that makes increasingly little sense. Already becoming a nuisance by screaming like a toddler at mild paranormal irritants, Lewis tries to impress an inconsistently-written popular kid (Sunny Suljic, The Killing of a Sacred Deer) through choices that resurrect Jonathan’s former mentor Isaac (Kyle MacLachlan), whose decomposing face and distorted voice yield minor pleasures.
But as the tension assumes to crank up and alleged doomsday consequences loom, screenwriter Eric Kripke sacrifices intelligent storytelling and audience investment for weird details. Examples include animating the house’s generous collection of demonic models — which Jonathan keeps calling “creepy,” though never in a way that incites fear nor humor — and superimposing Black’s head on a baby’s body, an effect that plays out like a bad preteen homage to Deadpool.
Lost in his own head yet again and clueless how to construct a workable cinematic narrative, Roth churns out a mess of a film that might be fun for elementary school-aged children who haven’t seen a lot of movies, but will likely prove a head-scratcher for the rest of the population — including their millennial parents who’ve read a Goosebumps book or two.
Grade: C-minus. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Universal Pictures)