2018 | DIR. ELI ROTH | REVIEW BY GLENN COCHRANE.
Who would have thought that a family-friendly, PG-rated spooky movie would be the rejuvenation needed to put Roth back in the game? Not me. But low and behold, here we are! THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN THE WALLS is a Goosebumps-esque fantasy adventure, which infuses the magic of Harry Potter with the frights of Monster House. It is the last thing you would expect from the renegade of gore, but it is precisely what the doctor ordered.
Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star as two unlikely friends - Jonathan and Mrs Zimmerman - whose occupancy of a mysterious haunted house conceals a very dark and sinister secret. A clock ticks within its walls 24-hours a day, and its precise location is unknown. Why and who put it there are questions for audiences to find out for themselves, but needless to say the film beholds plenty of juicy revelations and an abundance of fun. Young Owen Vaccaro (Daddy's Home) plays Lewis, Jonathan's orphaned nephew. Grief stricken and socially awkward, he struggles to fit in, but when his uncle reveals himself to be a warlock, his life is turned upside down as he races against time to battle ghouls and monsters.
Black and Blanchett are wonderful and make for an unexpectedly sincere onscreen dynamic. Black assumes his trademark cocky charisma with an added dash of earnestness, and while his role is not far removed from his recent turn in Goosebumps, he fits the part nicely. Blanchett relishes the opportunity to play a seemingly prudish librarian-type, and she embraces the genre with gusto. The supporting cast includes Roth-regular (and wife) Lorenza Izzo, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Colleen Camp and a fantastically maniacal Kyle MacLachlan. It is a strong ensemble of generations, of whom all have a firm grasp on the film's sense of nostalgia.
The film's use of single a location soundstage setting adds the right amount of texture to conjure fond memories of the cinema of old. Roth has created a classic aesthetic with an almost steam-punk texture, and has produced a deliciously quirky story. My mind was cast back to films like Watcher In The Woods and Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events, and were it not for Roth's director credit at the opening, we would be forgiven for assuming someone like Jean-Pierre Jeunet or Guillermo del Doro might have made it.
I have spent years debating the importance of contextually exposing children to horror, and amongst various reviews, articles and podcasts I have maintained that gradual exposure to fantasy/horror is fundamental in childhood development. So many parents wrap their kids in cotton wool with an irrational fear of moral corruption, and yet they fail to comprehend how significantly their own childhoods were touched by horror. From the grisly tales of the Brothers Grimm, to the deranged musing of Roald Dahl, as well as the hideous witches from Disney's cartoons and the macabre subtext of so many nursery rhymes. Horror is wonderfully diverse and mostly misunderstood and while a film like THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS ought to be celebrated for treating kids respectfully, its overall tone may prove to be its undoing with parent's knee-jerking to protective mode.
It is a shame that a wonderful film such as this is at risk of missing its mark, and we can only hope that time will serve it well. For parents who value genre storytelling for their children, and who lapped up movies like Goosebumps, Monster House, City of Ember and Paranorman, then Eli Roth's latest offering will surely be a tasty treat.... and just in time for Halloween! It's quite wonderful indeed.