Wednesday, March 6, 2019
The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018) * *
Directed by: Eli Roth
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Colleen Camp, Sunny Suljic, Renee Elise Goldsberry
The House with a Clock in Its Walls is pleasant enough, likely to provide some brief thrills to younger viewers who because of Harry Potter like anything with magic in it. But, it loses steam after an opening ten minutes which managed to fill me with wonder at least briefly. Since I was not familiar with the novel on which the movie is based, I was curious about Jack Black's Uncle Jonathan, who lives in a Gothic mansion much too large for just him. What exactly is his relationship with his neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett), with whom he bickers back and forth like an old married couple? Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are among the most reliable and intriguing of actors, but what about this movie caused them to sign on the dotted line to appear? The movie's visual effects overshadow everything anyway.
The story, which takes place in 1955, revolves around the nice, shy Lewis (Vaccaro), who is orphaned at age ten and is invited to live with his Uncle Jonathan, who he learns is a warlock, albeit a nice one, and Mrs. Zimmerman is a witch who has lost her mojo after the death of her family. It seems the house has a story also, in which Jonathan's friend Isaac Izard (MacLachlan), a master warlock who lives in the house (I think) but then turns evil after returning from World War II. He buries a clock in the walls of the house which will be used to set off Isaac's plan to rid the world of humans, because if they are capable of the horrors he saw in World War II, they aren't worth having around.
The movie juggles a lot, including Lewis' training to become a warlock, Isaac's story, Jonathan's futile attempts to locate the clock in the walls which makes noise but is hidden so well it can't be located, a school bully who Lewis briefly befriends, and another young girl in Lewis' class who clearly likes him. But despite all of the juggling, The House with a Clock... can't help but meander along with curiously low energy. The cast tries its hardest, but this stuff is old hat by now. There is little which can be done to amaze us. I was reminded of A Wrinkle in Time, another story written a long time ago which seems like it is recycling all of the visuals and ideas of other films because it took so long to make it to the big screen.
What we are left with is a nice, forgettable fantasy film with actors who are slumming in a story which doesn't do much to stir the imagination or your ability to even care much.