The House with a Clock in it’s Walls
Based on a series of books written by John Bellairs, “House” (for short) is directed by Eli Roth in a departure from his more extreme Horror films such as “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever”. It’s interesting to see Roth tackle a number of the projects he has recently been drawn to, but especially interesting given that this is largely a Family film dealing with fantasy elements. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett headline the feature along with Owen Vaccaro as the orphaned Lewis Barnavelt, with the indominatable Kyle MacLachlan as the villainous Isaac Izard.
The film opens in 1955 with a freshly orphaned boy on a bus to live with his only surviving relative, Uncle Jonathan Barnavell (Black). The man is an eccentric magician living in an old creepy looking house covered in clocks. It isn’t long before Owen discovers his Uncle is really a Warlock and that his neighbor and best friend, Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett) is also a Witch. While Owen is eager to learn the secrets of magic, he also years for a normal childhood and wants to make friends and just be considered NORMAL.
That’s a fine enough premise on its own, but the story digs much deeper into sentiments of the time and the survivors of the World War and the reverberating shock of the horrors they experienced. Owen represents so much that many other characters have lost. He breathes life into the characters he touches, but his own pain and loss is still an open wound waiting to be exploited by schoolmates and society. He wants the acceptance found with normalcy, but his heart keeps pushing him to accept the stranger aspects of his family and his own interests.
Roth proves himself more than a capable director throughout the runtime of the film. We still see his devotion to the horror craft, however. There are crawling slimy things, undead monsters, creepy clockwork dolls, and monsters aplenty for our protagonists to tackle. The effects work is top notch, save for some awkwardly rendered CGI in a few key moments. (I will never get a certain “baby” image out of my head, mostly for the awkwardness with which the rendering was done.) The film still works on the whole and that one knock isn’t enough to take away from it.
8.5 out of 10.