It’s a little early for Halloween films, but it looks like the cinemas have started already. This is my favourite time of year, and the fact that I love horror films playing a part in that. I have always loved horror films, from a young age I’ve been watching such films as Jaws, Gremlins, Deep Blue Sea and Alien. When a horror film that is aimed at children comes out, of course my interest is going to be peeked. That’s exactly what The House with a Clock in its Walls promised, and what it delivered on…mostly.
When a young orphan is picked up by his estranged uncle, he is taken to a house where strange things are going on. The furniture has a mind of its own, the portraits keep changing and there is a mysterious ticking noise deep within the walls at night. It turns out that his uncle and neighbour are warlocks, able to use magic and will teach him how too. But there is something that they still hide from him. It all revolves around the ticking in the walls, and the desperate search for its sinister source.
A part of what attracted me to this film was the cast. I’ve come to enjoy many of Jack Black films – he’s usually an entertaining and charming presence, and that is no different here. He sells the madness of the story without being too serious or too silly. Cate Blanchett has not done wrong before and still carries on with that trend. She’s possibly my favourite of the two big stars, selling the deadpan comedy and heartful sincerity wherever it’s needed. We have great performances from all the child actors, particularly from lead Owen Vaccaro, and from Kyle MacLachlan, who we don’t see much of these days.
Something else that stood out to me about this film was that it was a family film, and an obvious family, based off a children’s book and told with a relatively light tone. It’s produced by Steven Spielberg and made under his Amblin production company. So, who do we get to direct it? Eli Roth – the man who made body-horror Cabin Fever, cannibal film Green Inferno and torture-porn films Hostel and Hostel 2! This man has never even attempted to be child friendly before, so I knew that this would at least be interesting. I hated the aforementioned films – Cabin Fever was entertaining, but the rest were horrible, tasteless and just plain bad films. It surprises me to say that this is hands down Roth’s best film. His sets and eye for shooting them really stood out – they were interesting to look at and would have helped carry the film even if the performances were bad.
The story itself is fun and the tone is light, although it is darker than most family films today. This harkens back to the days of Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and The Dark Crystal. I loved it because of this. The child I once was would have adored this film. It is a little unbalanced tonally – we have murderous puppets trying to attack a child, and we have toilet humour involving a living griffin-shaped bush. Depending on the child, it may be a little too intense at moments too – although I think that they’ll be fine really as the ending is very happy, and there is humour throughout for them. There is one very surreal moment in the climax which threw me a little – it isn’t long and is gone as suddenly as it arrives, but it was a strange moment. Other than that, I really have nothing to complain about.
I recommend The House with a Clock in the Walls. It’s filled with the elements that made me love the child-friendly horror films of my youth. It’s certainly not a perfect film, and there’s no chance it will win any awards, but I’m more than happy to have seen it. It has far more heart and personality than almost all of the films I’ve seen this year. I never thought that Eli Roth of all people would make a film this joyful to watch. I don’t know if this was lightning in a bottle, or a sign of things to come, but the makers of this film can colour me impressed.
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