'The House With a Clock in Its Walls' Combines Good Family Horror & Laughs

In the tradition of Amblin classics – like Gremlins and The Goonies – where fantastical events occur in the most unexpected places, Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) and necromancing neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) show 10-year-old orphan Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) what it’s like to live in a home that ticks in The House With a Clock in Its Walls.

Based on the The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a 1973 juvenile mystery novel written by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey, the story follows our young hero after he goes to live with his uncle in a creaky old house with a mysterious tick-tocking heart. He’s not impressed with his new digs at first, but soon New Zebedee, Michigan’s sleepy façade jolts to life with a secret world of warlocks and witches when Lewis accidentally awakens the dead. Whoops! Hate when that happens.

While the choice of  Eli Roth – known for his hard-R horror movies – as the director might seem like an odd one, he actually is a self-proclaimed kid at heart who loves children’s movies from eras gone by. Many of his previous films have included a dose of humor and a sense of the absurd. The subject matter of the PG-rated The House with a Clock in Its Walls actually lends itself quite well to Roth’s sensibilities and lands well within his wheelhouse.

The extravagant visuals – both real and CGI – are bound to delight kids of all ages. Teeming with secrets and bubbling over with mystery, the main drama hinges on a baffling backstory about the mansion’s previous residents, a wicked wizard named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) and his impish wife Selena (Renée Elise Goldsberry), who both disappeared ages earlier while creating a mechanism that could affect the forces of time.

As Lewis creates spells and brews to locate the hidden device, fans of movies like Harry Potter and Wizards of Wavery Place will be delighted. Reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, this kid-flick is full of Victorian atmosphere, filled with doors, locks with skeleton keys, and oversized rooms designed to frighten (and captivate!) younger viewers. It’s perfect to get your kiddos in the mood for Halloween, but be aware that very little children might be scared by some of the monsters and creepy imagery, which includes devilish dolls, grinning Jack-O-Lanterns, and living furniture.

Louis is a relatable nerd, who, while he doesn’t fit in at school (he’s the anti-jock, and he wears vintage pilot’s goggles in class), is clever and likable. Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman create the narrative conflict, as they trade insults and barbs, and sometimes veer into slapstick territory, offering comic relief when things start to get intense. Black overplays the comedy from time-to-time, while Oscar-winner Blanchett shows handily why she’s considered one of our generation’s best.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is the first scary movie of the season that’s suitable for kids, so if your tweens are interested in checking it out, by all means let them tick it off their list of must-sees.

Visit Common Sense Media for more info on this movie’s appropriateness for your child.

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Greg Szimonisz
I really like the Common Sense media breakdown of the film's content. Thanks for posting it!