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