Directed by horror director Eli Roth (The Green Inferno, Hostel) and with a screenplay by the showrunner of Supernatural, Eric Kripke, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a child’s story fit for horror fans. The movie based on the book by the same name from John Bellairs and follows an orphan, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), who is sent to live with his estranged uncle. When the boy, realizes his uncle Jonathan’s (Jack Black) house is a place of magic, possible hauntings, and maybe even something more malevolent, the adventure begins. When the ten-year-old awakens the dead, the dangerous side of the world of witches and warlocks comes to life.
In the vein of children’s fantasy, the movie and narrative are in a spot where it is too mature for a kid’s movie but too junior for a young adult movie. That being said, Roth and Kripke rise to the challenge. The script utilizes and simplifies horror tropes and jump scares while the comedy in between is enough to make you watch the scenes between Jonathon and his neighbor and best friend, Florence (Cate Blanchett), on repeat. Their comedic timing and chemistry as polar opposites work extremely well.
That being said, the emotion shown by Blanchett in revelatory scenes out-acts the fake crying that Vaccaro can muster up when thinking about his dead parents. But as a young actor with a struggle at waterworks, he makes up for it with the wide-eyed wonder his character exudes in every magical moment of the movie.
Beyond the elaborate CGI of The House with a Clock in Its Walls, comedy, and warlock magic the movie does offer a potent message through more than one character. For children, Lewis’ journey from a kid who wants nothing more than to be accepted by those around him to one who is self-confident in his “weirdness.” From the moment Lewis sets foot in his new school, he is on the outside. Through magic, he learns to embrace himself and be unapologetic about his weirdness. I’m a sucker for any story that focuses on people embracing themselves especially in a time when bullying is rampant in every area of life.
For the adults in the audience, the character of Florence brings a theme that is extremely important: you are never truly broken. Without spoiling anything, each adult character in this movie has seen the horrors of WWII and it left its mark on them. Every one of them reacts to this trauma differently and the movie makes a fairly heavyhanded but important point about processing that trauma. It also gives our villain, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan,) a point of understanding. However, he is less compelling when seen in tandem with his partner.
As a movie, it isn’t the best. Jack Black’s character is there, he is different and yet the same as other characters he’s played before and falls flat when not paired with Blanchett’s Florence. The plot is predictable for a story of this type but the chemistry between the actors will keep you entertained.
I also understand that this is a movie that isn’t made for me. It’s made for children and on that note, I believe that it achieved director Eli Roth’s goal of creating a story that would work towards creating a new generation of horror fans. To do this, concepts of demons and spirits and darkness are throughout the movie. How easily the dialogue explains this lore is a credit to the screenplay from Kripke. As a fan of Supernatural, I knew it was him. That isn’t a bad thing. The family dynamics were written well and overall the lore of the world was complete for the time allotted, leaving questions to be answered in a good way.
Jump scares happen and it follows the flow of a traditional horror movie but made for an audience of children. It isn’t as successful as say the gateways of horror that I passed through as a kid — R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps (not the remake) and Are You Afraid of the Dark — but I commend Roth for breaking from his typical gore-fest films and truly embracing the wonder of childhood in this movie in The House with a Clock in Its Walls. I genuinely want to see this as a series, and although I’m not sure I’ll pay for the next one, I will watch it endlessly if it comes to a streaming service.
A House With a Clock In Its Walls
It isn’t as successful as say the gateways of horror that I passed through as a kid — R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps (not the remake) and Are You Afraid of the Dark — but I commend Roth for breaking from his typical gore-fest films and truly embracing the wonder of childhood in this movie. I genuinely want to see this as a series, and although I’m not sure I’ll pay for the next one, I will watch it endlessly if it comes to a streaming service.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.