Director Eli Roth is known for being a horror director (and being the Bear Jew in Inglorious Basterds). Kicking off his career with Cabin Fever and progressing into bigger, bloodier fare like Hostel, Green Inferno, and Knock Knock, with a slew of shorts and guest spots, Roth gained notoriety for the immense violence and gore in his movies, becoming a staple in the Torture Porn Horror genre.
But 2018 has been a growing year for the director. In March, Roth released Death Wish, a remake of the Charles Bronson 70’s classic. Though the film wasn’t near the sensation as the original, it was actually a decent movie, and was arguably the first performance in a long time Bruce Willis actually tried in, which is always nice to see. The hyper-violence and moody tone wasn’t that big of a stretch for Roth, but Death Wish did show Roth was more than just a man or horror.
Now, with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Roth has taken on his biggest challenge yet by making a gothic family film based on a beloved book. The result? Pure enjoyment. This is Roth’s finest film to date. A fun, creepy, wild, visual treat with some cool, creepy moments and stellar performances from the cast.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls follows Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), a lonely boy who is sent to live with his Uncle Jonathon (Jack Black) after his parents die in an accident. Lewis quickly realizes that Jonathon isn’t your typical uncle, as he feeds Lewis cookies for dinner, creeps around the hallways at night, and has a peculiar neighbor in Florence (Cate Blanchett). Lewis finds out that Jonathon is a warlock and Florence is a witch, and becomes interested in becoming a warlock of his own. Catching on faster than expected, Lewis looks to be on his way to becoming a full-fledged warlock, until he decides to use his new powers to impress a kid at school in order for him to be his friend. Lewis unintentionally casts a spell that awakes Isaac Izard (Kyle McLauchlin), Jonathon’s old partner who turned to dark magic when he came back from war. Isaac has created a doomsday device that he plans to unleash, unless Lewis, Jonathon, and Florence can stop him.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a visual treat. The house in question is like a gothic version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, where the couches have emotions, the books fly, and the windows move, all while being an dark, eerie house. The house is one of the film’s major characters and we know the ins and outs of it, from Lewis’ bedroom to the creepy room with numerous plastic dolls and clowns, a genuinely horrifying room. The make-up, particularly on McLauchlin, is top-notch, the cinematography is a beauty, and the action-packed ending is a blast. I was full of delight watching Cate Blanchett shoot rabid pumpkins with a wand.
This is a movie tailor-made for Jack Black. Black, a comedy master who’s timing and facial expressions make him one of Hollywood’s best, is great as Jonathon. Black knows the movie he is in and knows how weird it is. He makes having conversations with a recliner seem natural. McLachlin is pretty scary as Isaac, and when he comes on screen, the whole tone of the movie changes in a good way. Vaccaro is a solid young actor, but nothing too special here. The M.V.P. is the great Cate Blanchett. Blanchett, a two-time Oscar winner and one of our best living actresses, has never had this much fun on camera. Her quips back and forth with Black are funny and Florence has a really good emotional arc that works better than any other story in the movie. It may not be Oscar nominated fare, but Blanchett further shows why she is one of the best ever.
Also, side note for parents, though this movie is rated PG, their are some pretty dark sequences, particularly the stuff with McLachlin at the end, just a heads up.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a fun, pre-Halloween movie. Roth proves he is more than just a torture-porn horror director and makes a fun, creepy, exciting flick and Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are just the best.
SIDE NOTE: If you do decide to see this, make sure to do it on IMAX, not only because of the spectacular visuals, but because they show Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video in 3-D. It is not only a great song, but arguably the greatest music video ever made and rocks in 3-D. If you enjoy good music and good movies, this is a perfect 1-2 punch.