The House with the Clock in it's Walls Movie Review
The House with the Clock in it's Walls Movie Review Metadata
Surprisingly clever with a touch of pre-teen whimsey that isn’t cloying, The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018) is a welcome departure from dumbed down morality lessons disguised as a low-rent network afterschool specials (looking at you, Wrinkle in Time (2018).
Quiet, educated Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) has arrived in 1950’s New Zebedee, MI as a newly minted orphan to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), an eccentric, gregarious man with a house full of clocks. His next door neighbor is Florence (Cate Blanchette), looks amazing in various shades of purple and makes cookies for every occasion. She’s suffered a great loss herself and can commiserate with Lewis, while keeping her cool facade of distance and discipline. As an added bonus, Jonathan is a warlock (I know fellow, witches, I know) and Florence is a witch, but they both have internal blocks that prevent them from being really powerful.
Jonathan’s house was once owned by his magician partner, Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) and his wife Selene (Renée Elise Goldsberry), who died after trying to raising terrible black forces. The house itself is its own character, with magical items that move and interact with the current owner. Within this house, LIKE IN THE ACTUAL WALLS is a great clock that ticks constantly, either marking time or counting down, and Jonathan spends his nights searching for it because if it was important to Isaac, it’s probably not in anyone’s best interest.
Lewis befriends a local boy named Tarby who is running for class president. You can see what’s coming – awkward new kid and temporarily sidelined jock – and it’s still sad to watch. Lewis wants a friend and Tarby needs a vote, so to keep the friendship alive, Lewis breaks the one rule of Jonathan’s house to show off his magic just a little bit, which of course potentially brings about the end of the world.
As these things go.
You could just send your littles to see this so you can take in a showing of the decidedly more adult, White Boy Rick (2018), but The House with a Clock in its Walls deserves your full attention. Eli Roth directed it, so it’s absolutely worth your time as the thrills aren’t babyish (if that can be honestly said about a kids’ movie) and the story is very compelling. I’m not saying it’s hard to screw up an award-winning children’s book because we know it can happen, but Roth manages to maintain a sense of wonder without treating the entire audience as if we’ve never seen magic or movies or bad guys before. We’re not hit over the hear with dumbed down exposition or Really Wrong Magic Spells 101 – this a children’s fantasy story, and magic never needs to be explained to a child. It simply is whether or not you believe.
There are subtle little bits about this movie that I liked, like how the stained glass window at the top of the great stairs changed depending on the mood of the house, the topiary griffin that poops leaves, and the murderous pumpkins that guard the house. Edward Gorey fans will like the little homages to “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” sprinkled throughout the film, and stick around for the end credits to see Roth’s love for Gorey shine. Chair and Topiary even have their own technical credits if you’re looking hard enough.
A few adult themes, like war and murder and childhood death give The House with a Clock in its Walls a PG rating, and I have to admit, the demon gave me the creeps. This movie is set in the 1950’s so while it’s unlikely that any mid-Michigan town would have a multicultural elementary school, IT’S A KIDS MOVIE so shut up with your facts already. If I can get past a male witch calling himself a warlock, you can get past a few Black and Asians playing basketball together in a school gym. I think it’s a fine movie for kids over 6 and the adults who may have to hold hands as Lewis walks through the cemetery to raise the dead.
The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018) is rated PG for swears, witchcraft, magic, topiary griffins with a case of the runs, war imagery, suggestions of the Holocaust, kids getting bullied, kids getting knocked out by basketballs, necromancy, transfiguration, and slavering pumpkins with murder on their minds.