The house with a CloCk in its walls

Ticks along nicely…

Total Film - - Contents -

Eli Roth’s foray into fam­ily-friendly ter­ri­tory.

Creepy pup­pets, a taloned de­mon and a hideously de­formed vil­lain are all par for the course in an Eli Roth movie. But here’s a twist – The House With A Clock In Its Walls is ac­tu­ally aimed at fam­i­lies, and stars an adorable 10-year-old rather than a cast of he­do­nis­tic back­pack­ers out for a good slay­ing.

An­other twist: Roth is a per­fect fit for the ma­te­rial. Hop­ping not only gen­res but also tar­get au­di­ences, the Hos­tel di­rec­tor proves a sur­pris­ingly savvy choice for this en­er­getic adap of John Bel­lairs’ 1973 novel, in which young or­phan boy Lewis (Owen Vac­caro)

moves in to the Ham­mer Hor­ror-es­que home of war­lock Jonathan Bar­navelt (Jack Black). Filled with clocks, a sen­tient lounge chair and a stained­glass win­dow that changes its pan­els on a whim, the house is also home to Jonathan’s pur­ple-lov­ing witch pal Florence Zim­mer­man (Cate Blanchett).

If that set-up sounds as cosy as sip­ping hot co­coa in the Gryffindor com­mon room, it is, and as Lewis at­tempts to fit in at school and his new home, there are times the film slips into the kind of overly twee ter­ri­tory that made early Harry Pot­ter sickly sweet. Jonathan and Florence bicker in an­noy­ing Roald Dahlian slang, there’s a daft, in­con­ti­nent winged-lion tree, and Lewis’ school sub­plot is pure rent-an-Am­blin (Spiel­berg pro­duced), his friend­ship with a bad boy re­main­ing some­what un­der-ex­plored.

But Roth proves a dab hand with vis­ual gags: a visit to a soda store reaps belly laughs, while some night­mar­ish pump­kins up the gore fac­tor. It’s when the story takes a turn for the sin­is­ter, with the in­tro­duc­tion of evil war­lock Isaac Izard (Kyle McLach­lan), that Roth re­ally comes into his own. Izard left a le­gacy of hor­ror in the house, and Roth doesn’t hold back with his film’s gen­uinely scary mo­ments.

Mak­ing up for the lack of big sur­prises, the cen­tral trio weave their own brand of magic. Blanchett in par­tic­u­lar both grounds and el­e­vates her some­what ob­vi­ous ma­te­rial, and Jack Black has fun do­ing what Jack Black does best. Mean­while, Vac­caro is a spir­ited young lead who nails the off­beat tone even when Roth oc­ca­sion­ally wob­bles.

By the ex­cel­lent, nail-chomp­ing fi­nale, the story has earned its right to deal out a few life lessons for the younger crowd – as­sum­ing they’ve stuck around through the scary stuff – and the fact that Bel­lairs wrote 11 more ad­ven­tures star­ring Lewis and his un­cle bodes well. On the ev­i­dence of this zingy adap, a re­turn visit to Jonathan’s house wouldn’t be un­wel­come. Josh Win­ning

THE VER­DICT

An en­gag­ing new di­rec­tion for Eli Roth, who off­sets the odd tonal hic­cup with plenty of ghoul­ish de­lights.

for any­one won­der­ing where King Kong fi­nally ended up…

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