A magic mud­dle

Black and Blanchett star in a gothic kids’ com­edy that’s kooky and clut­tered.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS & CULTURE - THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS di­rected by Eli Roth IN CIN­E­MAS NOW

No­to­ri­ous for gore and grue­some hor­ror, direc­tor Eli Roth takes a de­tour into fam­ily-friendly ter­ri­tory with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a gothic kids’ com­edy of goofy war­locks, de­monic pump­kins, flat­u­lent fe­line top­i­aries and sen­tient so­fas.

If that sounds like a mess, well, it is. In 1955, or­phaned young­ster Lewis (Owen Vac­caro), goes to live with his ki­monowear­ing un­cle Jonathan (a typ­i­cally ex­u­ber­ant Jack Black) and prim Mrs Zim­mer­man (a cap­ti­vat­ing-as-ever Cate Blanchett) in a house crammed with Vic­to­rian oc­cult cu­rios. Magic is at work here, but not of the cin­e­matic kind.

House, adapted from John Bel­lairs’ 1973 young-adult novel, is an un­fo­cused jum­ble of themes, ideas, nar­ra­tives and tones. On one level, it is about Lewis find­ing a sur­ro­gate fam­ily, fit­ting in at school and dis­cov­er­ing his mys­ti­cal po­ten­tial. On an­other, there are al­lu­sions to World War II and a sug­ges­tion that Mrs Zim­mer­man might be a Holo­caust sur­vivor. Which leaves lit­tle room for the tit­u­lar time­piece – of the dooms­day va­ri­ety, as it turns out – or the chief bad­die, played by Kyle MacLach­lan in zom­bie make-up. There’s much to like and much to dis­card. Black and Blanchett’s bitchy ar­gu­ments are amus­ing, and you could eas­ily imag­ine Aleis­ter Crow­ley liv­ing in the kooky man­sion. Yet the arc be­tween poop jokes and ma­ture moral lessons leaves this Pot­ter­ish tale stunted and in­ert – not un­like a stopped clock.

Fam­ily fun: Cate Blanchett.

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