The House with a Clock in its Walls Movie Review
Looking for your boy with magical powers fix and don’t want to re-watch Harry Potter for the gazillionth time? Self-described horror master Eli Roth, the mind behind such family-friendly and critically acclaimed fare such as Hostel, Cabin Fever and Green Inferno, is here to save the day with the whacky The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a movie that keeps making me think of what its porn parody title will be.
The non-porn version is a PG-rated Harry Potter-Lite, a film that is completely unable to capture the mystique and awe of magic—at least compared to a certain franchise that will go unnamed except for the multiple references in this review—and yet has enough weird moments and odd lines of dialogue to be somewhat, strangely delightful.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls stars Owen Vaccaro as your less interesting version of The Boy Who Lived (to be fair, he’s more or less on par with Daniel Radcliffe in his first film), but the headliners are Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, who play a warlock and witch respectively who insult each other nonstop and are constantly looking for a clock hidden the walls of Black’s magical house, a clock that spells impending doom should it strike midnight. Or one. It’s never quite clear.
Plot wise it’s all a bit pedestrian, though to be fair it isn’t entirely predictable, either. The movie works best when Roth, working from a script by Eric Kripke, which in turn is based on a book by John Bellairs, asks his actors to do weird things or say weird shit—and works less well when it’s intending to advance the plot or invoke some sense of true creativity or emotion. The movie seems a bit rough around the edges, key elements presumably stripped from the source material—and at the very least, it really does feel like a poor man’s Harry Potter, especially because the kid’s magical powers seem to come and go as the plot dictates.
And yet, despite its shortcomings, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an amusing, offbeat journey that has enough oddities packed within to make it worth a watch. The pairing of Black and Blanchett is one you’d probably never expect to see but it works nonetheless, the two sharing good chemistry as they verbally spar. Black, even if he is essentially just playing the same character he always does, is a good fit for the role, and Blanchett, expressive as always, once again reminds us that there is no role she can’t tackle.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls isn’t a great film—the world doesn’t feel fully realized, and certain aspects of the story seem rushed or skipped over—but as a maniacally weird (and somewhat dark at times) family film, it’s a lot of fun.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.