The House with a Clock in its Walls Review: Horror director Eli Roth proves he has a solid kid-friendly side.
Would anyone have ever guessed that if Steven Speilberg’s studio, Amblin Entertainment, was making a new fantasy sci-fi film aimed for kids that they would hire Eli Roth as director? Yes, that’s right, the acclaimed horror director who basically created the torture porn genre with films like Hostel and The Green Inferno and beat Nazis to death with a baseball bat in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterd’s just made your kid’s next favorite fantasy film. Don’t worry though, Roth trades in the gore for a more family-friendly approach that still yields some solid scares.
To most Roth would seem out of his element if he’s not in a violently, gore-filled horror film, but he actually utilizes the more magical elements with The House with a Clock in Its Walls in a great way. The magic effects are actually pretty impressive and they feel pretty unique. It also fits perfectly into the film’s set design and the focus on 50’s magicians gives it a more grounded and vintage feel that makes the film a real standout.
The film’s 50’s aesthetics is really where it shines as it adds to the creepy elements that Roth brings to the film. The Roswellian sets and outfits make the film have a creepy mood of its own and are something that aren’t seen in many other films. Not to mention, the film’s use of creepy dummies and paintings on the wall makes every moment in the house feel constantly eerie.
But horror isn’t the only strength of The House with a Clock in Its Walls as there are plenty of comedic moments brought by the excellently selected cast. Seeing Jack Black back in a leading role feels perfect and his comedic style is perfect for the film. He surprisingly has great chemistry with Cate Blanchett and the two drum up some great dialogue between each other. Owen Vaccaro also does a solid job as a lead, but often has moments of over-acting that could make people crack a smile when they really shouldn’t.
The story is also pretty fantastic as it touches on some interesting topics that I didn’t expect to see as a part of the film. Because the film takes place after WW2, some of the effects of it can still be felt amongst its characters. This opened the door for more topics like PSTD and the effects of being a war survivor to be touched on. These topics aren’t overly talked about, but the fact that they had any amount of spotlight is honestly pretty great.
There are moments, though, where the story tries to rely on being funny when it doesn’t really need to. The film’s third act also feels a little too quick and the reliance on magic kind of waivers as the film rushes to its conclusion. Perhaps it was just so the film didn’t feel as if it was ripping off the Harry Potter series, but there could’ve just been more for great ending.
Maybe The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a sign that Eli Roth can bring his horror talents to a PG audience. The film could’ve easily come off as just a Harry Potter knock-off, but it is so much more than that. Don’t let Roth’s past works fool you, he has brought his more kid-friendly talents and will undoubtedly excite kids with magical scares rather than scar them.