The Movie Guru: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett fun “The House with a Clock in Its Walls”
The Movie Guru
There aren’t nearly enough magical family adventures coming out of Hollywood right now.
Thankfully, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is stepping in to fill that gap. Adapted from the John Bellairs novel, the movie is more like the original “Jumanji” than anything that’s hit Hollywood in decades. Fun, emotional, and just a little bit scary, “House” offers a great night out at the movies for both kids and adults.
The story starts as these things often do, with an orphan moving into a mysterious house that has plenty of secrets. Here those secrets involve magic, a cabinet that should never be opened, and a mysterious ticking in the walls that Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) refuses to tell Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) about. Cate Blanchett is the mysterious, magical neighbor with her own secrets and a love for the color purple. Together, the three must battle a danger that might be too big for any of them to stop.
For a movie brought to the big screen by well-known horror director Eli Roth and “Supernatural” creator Eric Kripke, “House” is refreshingly less dark than you might expect. Though frightening things happen, the entire point of the movie is about facing down your fears and embracing your weirdness. There’s also a surprising overall focus on healing and growth, framed in a way that only adds to the movie’s sense of wonder.
Not that there isn’t some darkness—There are some haunted house tropes, including a zombie and demonic-looking pumpkins, as well as a magical sequence by one of the villains that is a little unsettling to look at. The only genuinely disturbing thing about the whole movie, however, is the CGI baby with the head of an adult Jack Black. It was probably meant to be funny, but it ended up being much closer to nightmare fuel.
When they’re not being trapped in a horrible CGI flesh prison, however, the cast is great. Jack Black proves once again that he’s using Robin Williams’ career as a template for his own, exhibiting a quirky charm that’s a perfect match for the film’s energy. Blanchett brings a surprising amount of lightness and warmth to her character, given some of her previous work, and generally manages to be the most engaging thing onscreen.
The movie isn’t perfect, of course. The opening is somewhat slow, and it takes everyone a little while to really get the flow of the story going. Also, it could have spent a little more time lingering in some of the emotional depths it kicked up for the characters. Blanchett handles what little backstory exploration she has beautifully, but the complicated situation between Black’s and Vaccaro’s characters could have used more time.
In the end, though, these are only minor quibbles compared to how much fun this movie is. In fact, you might even call it magical.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.