The movie is fun, witty, dark and entertaining, but grown-ups may struggle a little, writes
Kids will love this, their folks not so much
At some point during your childhood you probably wished for different parents. Usually because your immediate genetic ancestors have Draconian ideas about bedtime and snobbish views on ice cream as a breakfast cereal, you would stare wistfully out of the window dreaming of packing a bag and fleeing to caregivers who understood that you were different. In a weird kind of way The House with a Clock in its Walls is the story of what happens when the universe decides to give you a crack at living with those quirky parents you’ve always wanted. Based on the eponymous children’s book, it revolves around the adventures of Lewis Barnavelt (Oscar Vaccaro), a 10-year-old orphan sent to live with his eccentric uncle and his house-mate in 1950s America. Lewis is keen on fitting in but his uncle is allergic to the concept and so is his house.
This is where the acting comes in. As witnesses to the final product, audiences often forget to think how odd it must be for actors to stand in front of a green screen and feign horror at invisible flying books that are hell bent on blinding you. As someone who cringes at the idea of even dancing in front of others, the thought of violently swatting your hands at air in front of an entire film crew is a horror movie in and of itself. Not so for one of the film’s leads Jack Black, who plays Lewis’s eccentric uncle.
“To be afraid of invisible books you have to be willing to be an idiot. You can’t be afraid of humiliation,” says Black.
Not long after he moves in, Lewis learns a few startling things. First off his uncle and his uncle’s roommate Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) are a warlock and a witch.
Lewis also notices that the house is alive — or rather, its contents are.
As is to be expected, things go wrong when Lewis falls in with the wrong sort at school and breaks the only rule he was required to obey in order to impress a new friend.
Evil is unleashed, the fate of the world is threatened and malevolent pumpkins rise up against the good guys.
“As a parent I subscribe more to the Grimm Family tales than the more saccharine stuff. All of the best kids’ stories have the scariest villains,” says Blanchett.
One of this film’s most identifiable positives is that it is a break from minions, emoji movies and other kids’ flicks that feel like they came out of a microwave at the cinematic version of McDonald’s.
It may be because of the source material or the fact that one can appreciate the very real chemistry between the very real people on screen but The House with a Clock in its Walls has something sports coaches may refer to as heart.
Says Blanchett: “Sometimes you have a good time on set but the movie is not great and sometimes you get the opposite. Working on this movie was one of those win-win experiences. Not only did everyone take the work seriously but it was genuinely fun to be on set with everyone.”
That sense of joy is not only apparent in the movie but even in the conversation with Blanchett and Black. They joke with and tease each other like high school friends who haven’t seen one another since the school holidays.
“Being on set was great. When I think of my closest relationships, there is always a bit of banter and there was a lot of that on set,” says Black.
Good chemistry, however, does not absolve The House with a Clock in its Walls of all its sins. Murderous shrubbery and a superfluity of sparkly magical bits does little to hide the fact that this movie’s plot contains fewer twists than the N1 but it is not entirely clear that that matters. Do kids go in for that whole M. Night Shyamalan surprise ending stuff? Probably not.
There are also attempts at character depth that, while admirable, feel a little half-hearted. For example, over the course of the movie we learn that the reason Florence does not practise magic anymore is because of the trauma of losing her family in the Holocaust. The thing is, though, the Holocaust is always whispered about, like a family secret at Christmas that all the adults are desperately trying to hide from the kids. Thinly veiled allusions to one of history’s worst crimes feel a little like fence sitting. Either one gives
I subscribe more to the Grimm Family tales than the more saccharine stuff. All of the best kids’ stories have the scariest villains
the audience, regardless of their age, a glimpse into just how vile Nazis were — or leave it out altogether.
As a children’s movie The House with a Clock in its Walls is fun, witty, suitably dark and entertaining. If your child enjoys words and is a bit of an oddball they will probably enjoy this movie just as much as they did Despicable Me. Parents, on the other hand, may struggle a little. The pumpkins are really cool though. LS
The House with a Clock in its Walls is on circuit