THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS, US, 2018. Starring Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Colleen Camp, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo. Directed by Eli Roth. 104 minutes. Rated PG (Mild supernatural themes, violence and some scary scenes)
There are some rather irresistible urges impelling us to go to see this entertaining film. What about a title which sounds so intriguing (although audiences might have a technical quibble about the exact location of the clock). And the combination of Jack Black and Cate Blanchett? And more than a dabbling in magic? A story that appeals to the Harry Potter deep inside each of us.
A word about that cast first. Fans of Jack Black will enjoy him – always variations on the same performance but entertaining nonetheless, this time a warlock who has had some success but fallen foul of his performance partner (Kyle MacLachlan enjoying himself as wizard, Isaac Izard, with a number of appearances where he seems quite sepulchral and villainous). The screenplay is well-written which gives Jack Black a whole lot of typical humorous quips as well as some engaging banter with his neighbour, a benign witch, dressed in purple, Florence. And, Cate Blanchett looking good and generally serene is able to deliver some funny caustic one-liners as well as slapping Black with the banter.
And then there is Black’s recently orphaned nephew, Lewis, with a sympathetic performance by Owen Vaccaro, sadly alone, trying to make friends at school where he is either mocked or ignored, but with a great desire to become a warlock himself.
It is 1955 so a nice period piece (Back to the Future also incoporated returns to 1955), the set designers and decorators working overtime to create a most elaborate house, one of those mansions with extraordinary rooms, museum-like with remnants from local fairs, deep basements, portraits which move. It is entertaining just to be in the house.
And, if you like magic action there is plenty to be relished here, Jack Black being successful as well as some expected messing up, Cate Blanchett’s Florence calm and magical, and Lewis a fast learner and, being dared by a friend at school, literally raising the dead.
The film is directed by Eli Roth who is best known to horror buffs for such films as Cabin Fever, the first two Hostel films (very gruesome), Green Inferno and Knock, Knock. Not exactly a calling card for a PG film – but, getting to the spirit of things, he delivers a comically scary film drawing on his horror talent.
The film was based on a novel by John Bellairs, published in 1979, part of a series of young adult novels influenced, as Bellairs himself (died in 1991) said were influenced by his Catholic schooling and imagination and J.R.R.Tolkein.
Actually, the film is so enjoyable that, in time to come, it would be well worth seeing and living over again.
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Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.