I’m certain if there are fans of the novel by John Bellairs, they will appreciate the nuances transferred over from that work. But for everyone else, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is likely to resemble numerous other fantasy family films from recent past. Because of the film’s use of magic, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable, despite being based on a work that came long before that British behemoth of a franchise ever existed. While this film adaptation of that classic children’s book is certainly watchable, assuming the audience member is old enough to handle the frightening elements, the most original aspect of the production is the choice of director. And he is likely the reason that younger audience members must be wary of the content.
Set in 1950s
, the film
follows recently orphaned 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), who is sent to live
with his mysterious uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black). Jonathan wears kimonos and
lives in a house with clocks everywhere and plutonic friend named Michigan (Cate
Blanchett), who he constantly trades insults with. But beyond his basic
personality eccentricities (which could just be read as a typical Jack Black
character), Jonathan has a creepy habit of wandering the halls of the home at
night, in search of a clock hidden within the walls. When Lewis questions his
uncle, he discovers that Jonathan is a warlock trying to solve a mystery left
in the walls of his home before it’s too late. In true fashion of most YA
narratives, Lewis discovers that he too has a gift for magic and becomes a
student of his uncle and Florence ,
which he also inevitably uses to navigate the difficulties of attending a new
Although there is little that is more frightening than the first few films of the Harry Potter franchise contained, there has been some pushback about the darker turns the film takes in the third act. While the tone always remains light as way to off-set the subject matter, there are demons and sequences of the occult utilized by the film’s villain. Because bodily harm towards the protagonists never really seems to be the goal, I could see how there were careful efforts to retain the PG-rating, but somehow that wasn’t enough for some. I imagine some of the hatred was pre-conceived with the decision to have Eli Roth direct the film, despite only being known for ultra-violent R-rated horror movies.
Roth certainly brings his dark sense of humor to the family film, but with far more of an emphasis on the humor than you might expect. There absolutely are horror elements in the narrative, and more added with the style of Roth’s direction, but it is clear that the filmmaker is working from a new playbook. Rather than being cheaply gory, Roth must use other tools instead. I wouldn’t say that this makes The House with a Clock in Its Walls a good film, but it has moments of inspiration. I would make comparison to Spy Kids, which was an unexpected turn from action/horror director Robert Rodriguez, with the biggest difference seeming to be Roth’s ineffectiveness utilizing CG and green screen environments the way that Rodriguez has become known for.
Because there are so many sequences that rely on these CGI effects, The House with a Clock in Its Walls seems the perfect fit for 4K Ultra HD, and it is an improvement from the other formats included. At the same time, I was somewhat disappointed with the film’s effects in general, even if they are presented in the richest of colors. The package also comes with a Blu-ray disc and a digital download code, for other ways to watch the film. The extras on the discs are full of choices, though it is somewhat bloated due to a bunch of material captured as promotional material by the cast. A number of these featurettes just have the cast on the same green screen set, singing, joking, and playing a trivia game about Jack Black, with Black as the host. It must have cost next to nothing to make, and it gives the disc the illusion of having far more extras than it actually does. Not all of the extras are throwaway, however, with a video journal by Roth and additional footage (alternate opening/ending, gag reel) that can be appreciated by film fans and younger viewers alike.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 6/10
Historical Significance: 4/10
Special Features: 7.5/10