REVIEW: Black and Blanchett elevate otherwise forgettable ‘House with Clocks’

I can’t say that I ever expected Jack Black and Cate Blanchett to make a good onscreen duo, but here we are.

The two performers appear on the big screen in this fantasy film, directed by Eli Roth. While they headline the picture, though, the main character of the picture is Lewis, played by Owen Vaccaro. The film’s opening finds Lewis moving to Michigan to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) after the death of his parents. Not long after Lewis moves in, he soon finds out that both his uncle and his uncle’s friend Florence (Blanchett) are warlocks.

As he begins to learn about the world of magic, Lewis not only finds out that sorcery exists, but that the house he’s living in contains an evil clock with nefarious designs.

“House with a Clock in its Walls” has storytelling that came across as somewhat loose. The pacing always feels too slow for this kind of film and the tone seemed somewhat inconsistent. Roth’s film never seems to find the correct balance.

At times it’s a more whimsical, lighthearted family picture, closer to the 2015 “Goosebumps,” while at others it comes across as a more serious, emotionally-charged production. It doesn’t help that the third act is also quite anticlimactic. The whole thing could’ve been ‘tightened.’

It comes across as if it’s more appropriate for a made-for-TV affair, rather than a bigger-budget feature film. One could say it’s a bit more comparable to a Disney Channel type film, rather than other feature young adult novel adaptations.

The picture also suffers from some weak dialogue, a few moments of heavy exposition and humor that was a bit too juvenile at times.

Fortunately, the movie is assisted greatly by its two lead stars. As usual, Black brings a monumental amount of energy to his role, and it’s infectious. Blanchett, meanwhile, provides the more stoic performance, providing for a nice balance. Plus she knocks the more emotional moments out of the park, as expected.

More importantly, the two have a tremendous amount of chemistry on screen together. Most of the banter between their two characters are the highlights of the movie.

Vaccaro, meanwhile, is fine in the role. His character is very much an introvert and he has trouble opening up to people, and Vaccaro pulls this off.

However, it seemed like this film needed more young characters. There are a few classmates of Lewis shown in the movie, but they have little screen time. I realize this is based on a book, but it just felt like Lewis having a friend or two to go through this situation might have made things better. Again, it’s a common factor with other creepy family films, from “Hocus Pocus” to “Goosebumps.”

It also didn’t help that the villains featured here are rather forgettable.

I can give credit to the set and effects team for creating a fun, mystical haunted house with cool surroundings. The film had the look down. But aside from that, the only things elevating this movie close to average are the performances from Black and Blanchett. The rest of the film just comes across as lackluster. 2.5 out of 5.



Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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