Movie Reviews

Published on September 20th, 2018 | by Michael Newman


The House With The Clock In Its Walls

The year is 1955 and a newly orphaned young man named Lewis (portrayed by the incredibly talented Owen Vaccaro) arrives in the small town of New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black).  Upon his arrival he discovers that his Uncle Jonathan and his neighbor/friend Florence (Cate Blanchet) are frantically attempting to find a mysterious clock in the wall of the house, with the clock’s dark purpose still a mystery.

The character of Lewis is your stereotypical weakly newcomer, who has no friends and has no athletic ability what-so-ever.  This is portrayed in an extremely comical scene in the beginning of the film where his new classmates are picking basketball teams and would rather take a kid on crutches over Lewis.  This one scene did an excellent job of making Lewis very endearing and the underdog you want to root for.  Not only is Lewis having a hard time fitting in at school, but he is finding his home life is also a bit unsettling.  Lewis and his uncle have a few odd interactions, and eventually he finds out his eccentric uncle is actually a warlock, or as Lewis lovingly likes to call him, a man-witch.  After they finally have a heartfelt talk and realize they are both “black swans” in life, his uncle reluctantly agrees to train Lewis to become a warlock.  The training sets in motion a series of events that not only grow Lewis as a more powerful warlock-in-training, but also as a person.  Ultimately, Lewis must use his new-found magical gift and the power of his new family to prevent the clock from carrying out its devious plan.

Eli Roth, better known for his less kid friendly movies such as Hostel and Cabin Fever, did an astounding job of bringing the film to life.  While there are certainly intense moments that may not be entirely suitable for younger viewers, it brought enough scares and creepy moments to entertain both young and old alike.  The level of intensity is comparable to other kid friendly horror titles such as the Goosebumps series and this film does a good job of mixing up the lighter moments, jump scares and the use of creepy props to bring both a sense of terror and wonder to the screen at the same time.  I do have to say, the scene where a bunch of spooky dolls come to life hit a bit too close to home considering my wife has a very large doll collection.  After seeing this film, walking into her doll room will never be the same again.  

Owen Vaccaro does an extraordinary job in his role of the quirky and nerdy Lewis and Jack Black is his usual zany self in the role of Uncle Jonathan, but he also does a great job with the more serious moments as well.  Cate Blanchet, however, was one of the biggest surprises.  Her talents are usually seen in dramas and playing more serious characters, so it was nice to see her in a more fun and playful role.  All the characters have an excellent chemistry from the moment we are introduced to them, and that captivating chemistry carries through to the very end.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls certainly kept me entertained throughout.  The characters and story were interesting, and the suspense and thrills were scary enough to elicit the occasional jump.  While I hesitate to say it’s fun for the whole family as once again, some of the scenes may be a little too frightening for younger audiences, it certainly is a great movie for kids who are a bit older or who are not easily spooked.  If you are a fan of lighthearted Halloween movies and can overlook a few silly and unnecessary moments, then this film has the potential to be an instant family classic and one that you will likely want to watch every Halloween season.  Hmm, suddenly, I have a craving for homemade chocolate chip cookies and when you see the film, you will completely understand why.

4 out of 5 stars   


Second review by Joseph Saulnier

y Joseph K. Saulnier

Set in the 1950s, The House with the Clock in its Walls tells the story of a young boy, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), who lost his parents in a car accident and goes to New Zebede (pronounced Zeb-uh-dee) to live with his estranged Uncle, Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black).  While there, he discovers some weird happenings at the old house, and not the least of which is his Uncle’s behavior.  Soon, Lewis discovers that Jonathan, along with his Uncle’s best friend and neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) practice magic and are trying to find a mysterious clock hidden in the walls of their house, which used to belong to Jonathan’s mentor and magical partner, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan).  Certain that the ticking/clock is nothing but bad news, the three set out to try and find it and stop it from doing whatever it does.

What really shined about the performance from the three main actors.  Vaccaro, best known for his role in Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, portrays a quirky 10-year old who reads the dictionary because he likes words in the best possible way.  Jack Black is his usual “Jack Black” self in this film, but it fit the role he was playing: an eccentric old man who fancies himself a Warlock (he really is a Warlock, it just sounded better saying he fancies himself that way).  What I always admire about Cate Blanchett is she doesn’t shy away from any role that she finds intriguing, whether it be a millennia-old elf, a Norse God hell-bent on revenge, or a holocaust survivor practicing magic.  It’s truly actors like her who let us discover some very interesting pairings in the film industry.  She and Jack Black had rather good chemistry in this film, and played off of each other so well.  I would love to see them do more things together; possibly a Clock sequel?

The surprising thing, though, that I discovered during the opening credits of the film is that it was directed by Eli Roth.  Now, this film is definitely a family film.  Maybe not for the wee ones, but any school-age child should have no problem grasping the concepts in the film, and of course there are jokes littered throughout the film for adults.  My personal favorite was a reference to Salvidor Dali by Florence.  But never in a million years would I have thought that it was directed by a man who is best known for his work in the horror genre.  Fellow Skewed & Reviewed Staff Writer Josh Aja attended the screening for the film with me, and we both agreed that there were some horror elements to the film, but definitely unexpected and way different than anything he has done before.  Not to say it’s bad, in fact quite the opposite.  I think his knowledge of the horror universe really added to the film and allowed him to utilize some ideas and concepts from the book that any other director may have failed at.

The soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but the sound department did a great job setting the tone accurately when it needed to do so.  The visual were excellent for a movie that was based on a not so well known book.  It’s interesting the things people will put money into these days, more money toward the lesser-known intellectual property, less money on some films that could have used it.

Was it a perfect movie?  Not at all.  It was a great movie nonetheless, and definitely one to take your children to see.  Especially with Halloween just around the corner.  The Halloween theme for the movie makes you think that it should have been released closer to the ghoulish holiday, but I believe it was a great decision to release earlier.  This way you won’t have to contend with movies such as Venom, Goosebumps 2 (which is Jack Black-free this time around), and Halloween.  I plan on taking my kids to see the film, and am really hoping we see a sequel in the not-too-distant future, hopefully not shunning Jack Black as Goosebumps did this year.

4 stars out of 5


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