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The House with a Clock in Its Walls review: 'An early Halloween treat'

3 stars


The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House With a Clock in Its Walls

Time for a little magic. The year is 1955 and, following the tragic death of his parents in a car crash, young Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black), in the fictional town of New Zebedee, Michigan.

Ten-year-old Lewis is the quintessential weird movie kid: he never leaves the house without his goggles (like his favourite adventure hero, Captain Midnight), he collects dictionaries, and he always wears a bow tie. But hey, that’s okay, because Uncle Jonathan is a bit on the strange side himself. His house, too, is a little odd — and decorated with dozens of clocks.

Anyway, the truth is, Jonathan is a warlock, his enchanting next-door neighbour, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), is a good witch and, oh yeah, the house isn’t just odd, it’s alive. Eventually, Lewis finds out, and somehow convinces his uncle to be his magic teacher. But wait, there’s more!

A powerful clock is hidden within the walls of Jonathan’s house. It was put there by the previous owner — a bad warlock by the name of Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan), who died while messing about with some dark magic. Naturally, Jonathan is determined to find this clock (I won’t say why). Unfortunately, things take a bit of a wobble after little Lewis stumbles upon a book that tells him how to raise the dead. You can see where this is going.

Based on the 1973 novel by John Bellairs, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is, at its core, a bit of a big-screen pantomime. Helmed by Eli Roth (a director whose films I’m generally allergic to), this whimsical and magical feast is every bit as silly as it sounds. But listen, it all comes together rather splendidly.

Roth may have made his name directing grisly horror films, but this right here is a PG picture, and he just about reins himself in to present a pleasant and surprisingly charming, family-friendly fantasy.

A cracking cast works its magic. Black (always reliable — and cashing in some leftover Goosebumps chips) and Blanchett (always a star) spark off of one another.

Young Vaccaro, meanwhile, is a delight — that kid’s got a bright future ahead of him.

Sure, it all gets a little convoluted towards the end — and it’s going to take me years to get over the horror of one particular scene (it involves Jack Black’s head on a baby’s body), but, um, we’ll excuse that for now.

An early Halloween treat.

Cert: PG

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