Blu-ray/DVD review: “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” (2018)

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” (2018) 

Fantasy/Young Adult

Running Time: 105 minutes

Written by: Eric Kripke based on the book by John Bellairs

Directed by: Eli Roth

Featuring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett and Owen Vaccaro

Jonathan Barnavelt:There’s a clock in the walls. We don’t know what it does, except… something horrible.”

The new fantasy young adult movie is released on Blu-ray and DVD this moth in the rather long titled as well as plot spoiling “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” (2018) which is quite an unusual movie in that it features two A list stars in Cate Blanchett and Jack Black who are being directed by shock horror director Eli Roth, who has been given the reigns on a big budget fantasy tale by producer Steven Spielberg. As you would expect from the stars of the movie they deliver on their performance, they have both ‘been here and done that’ before in better and bigger movies that are not far in theme from this new feature. Where this movie seems to falter is in the tone, plot and narrative which is down to Eli Roth who has never really been at the helm of a drama, comedy or special effects movie before which is illustrated right from the opening credits, it is a shame as this could have been a movie that might have been really interesting in the right hands. In fact if this had been a more interesting story, it may have been imaginable a young Spielberg himself may have directed this. What is curious to me while watching “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” was that it is definitely not a bad movie at all, it just seems meandering as well as lacking some real spark, I had a real ‘been there’ experience as well, not only from the general plot, but also the trope laden narrative that is nothing new at all, especially when comparing to other genre pieces in the most obvious way with the “Harry Potter” (2001-2011) series and even Black’s own “Goosebumps” (2015), which I actually found to be superior as it was quite a bit of fun with Black himself playing a little against character, something I welcome very much. 

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is based around ten-year-old Lewis Barnavelt who moves to live with his Uncle Jonathan. During his first night, Lewis is puzzled when he hears a ticking sound in the walls. Lewis begins exploring the house and stumbles upon Jonathan smashing a wall with an axe. Frightened, he runs away and stumbles upon multiple household objects coming to life. Jonathan confesses that he is a warlock and Florence, his neighbour, is a witch. The house’s previous owners were a sinister warlock named Isaac Izard and his equally wicked wife Selena, who had hidden a clock within the walls of the house before they died. Jonathan has been trying to find it and discover its purpose. Despite Jonathan’s discouragement, Lewis begins teaching himself magic.

Much like many other fantasy movies or those involving magic this is an adaption, this time from a 1973 novel by John Bellairs who wrote many young adult novels as well as being very popular he also won many literary awards, so it is a wonder that other books he wrote have not made the transition to the big screen. This movie has been adapted by noted television writer and producer Eric Kripke who is most well known as the creator of the long running CW show “Supernatural” (2005-present), here he works from an existing property and for the most part seems to nail it, with all the elements you would expect from a movie within this genre, he knows the beats to hit so it is odd that it has pacing issues as well as logic ones as well, however I do not think this is down to his work. The weakest link in the movie is Eli Roth who here is working on his largest ever budget as well as a movie that is not R-rated, this is a PG movie which means the tone as well as fantasy and horror have to be pitched just right, not only that, when you are not relying on scares to produce emotion as well as push a story along then a different set of skills come into play, which at this stage Roth does not seem to possess. That is not to say that Eli Roth is a bad director, he has talent but so far has only really shown it in horror movies that have extreme violence, even his attempt at a thriller, the Keanu Reeves led “Knock Knock” (2015) should have been more low key than what it ended up being. In “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” Roth has opted to try and tell a story without much pace, especially for a story that contains so many recognisable tropes as this one does. If this movie had been the first young adult adaption with a magic element as well as wizards then the length it takes for anything to occur may have been acceptable, but this movie really is nothing new so the pace could have been picked up with more action to take up the slack. The movie has been shot by Rogier Stoffers who has quite a bit of experience but as can be seen in this movie does not really have a signature which means this looks lacklustre as well as a little dark on Blu-ray, in fact the CGI is a little off as well which in this genre is an unforgivable sin.

As already mentioned the stars of the movie are Jack Black and Cate Blanchett who are both playing eccentric, magical as well as humorous characters which they both could do with their eyes closed. Both of these experienced actors carry this movie through the trope-laden script, the ropey CGI as well as attempting to make the young child actor Owen Vaccaro, shine as much as possible. Owen Vaccaro, who has appeared in a few other movies, is about average for a child star in the new millennium, which is not saying much. It is sometimes a revelation when young actors are good with limited experience; the actress that stands out for me over the past few years is Dafne Keen from “Logan” (2017) who has to juggle drama, action and a little bit of comedy all the while being successful in a very adult movie. Here in “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” Vaccaro plods through the movie not really playing anything in particular but just reciting lines which means his performance is a little exposed that hints at a director who has never directed a child before or is unable to adjust when things do not go to plan and adjustments need to be made.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a passable young adult fantasy movie that does not live up to its promise especially with much of the impressive talent in front of as well as behind the scenes. Even though it is trope laden as well as having archetypical characters there should have been more to offer audiences who have been exposed to other movies like the “Harry Potter” franchise to name just one fantasy genre example. It has moments as well as elements of ideas in its story and narrative that could have added up to more than what we see onscreen which is a missed opportunity, as paying audiences we deserve better especially for the budget and again, talent. To be honest this does not need to be part of any collection but is worth a look if you catch on a streaming service. One of the more damning comments I can make is that I was so indifferent to this movie that I found it a little yawn inducing, there was little to stick around for so streaming is the answer to this one.

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