Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 400-Word Review: The House With a Clock in its Walls

Jack Black stars in a family-friendly horror flick that isn't afraid to scare its young viewers.




Photo © 2018 Storyteller Distribution Co., LLC
 

The House With a Clock in its Walls” — you know, the movie with the words in its title — is a bit rickety and never stops trying too hard. But it also represents a return to form for family-friendly horror (the genre with problems in its nature); it’s an imperfect, but welcome, effort.

Precocious Lewis (Owen Vaccaro, the kid with a future in the pictures) is shipped off to an idyllic small town after the untimely death of his parents. He’ll be living with his estranged and eccentric uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black, the actor with gaps in his resume), who quickly reveals himself to be a warlock. He and his contentiously beloved neighbor, Florence (Cate Blanchett, the star with gravitas in her performance) are trying to unravel the mysteries of the titular house; it’s been plagued by an infernal ticking since the violent death of its previous tenant, a fellow wizard named Isaac (Kyle Maclachlan, the performer with madness in his eyes).

“The House With a Clock in its Walls” was a beloved, if slightly forgotten, ’70s novel by the late John Bellairs. It spawned a series — a fact that surely helped get the movie made, since sequel potential remains in vogue — marked by a nominally child-friendly horror. There were plenty of pictures in the ’70s and ’80s unafraid to scare kids; in the current moment, there seems to be a reluctance to risk traumatizing the wee ones, so the only comparable pictures are deliberately cartoonish spoofs like “Goosebumps” (the franchise with weakness in its execution).

Amblin Entertainment — no stranger to scaring kids, albeit decades ago — clearly wanted to go for more visceral scares with this one, opting to hire Eli Roth (the director with gore in his reputation) to helm “The House With a Clock in its Walls.” Roth’s predilection for intense, unwavering depictions of horror comes in handy here; the frights, relatively tame though they may be (sinister mannequins, angry jack-o-lanterns) are treated as real threats; the danger is always truly felt, something utterly absent from family entertainment since the heyday of Tim Burton (the auteur with macabre in his brain).

It’s nothing that grown-up viewers will rave about — but it’s likely to create a generation of fright fans among pre-teens, who will surely have nightmares (yet rewatch anyway). The horror filmmakers of the future owe Roth and Amblin their sincere gratitude.

My Rating: 6/10
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit Module Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The Summer Movies in the Park Are Awesome This Year

The City of Pittsburgh's annual Cinema in the Park series returns with another summer of free outdoor movies for all.

7 Storylines Which Will Define and Determine Steelers' Season

An unfamiliar underdog status may help the Steelers get back to the playoffs and beyond.

Can't Miss Concerts in Pittsburgh in June

This month's lineup includes Ariana Grande, Hiss Golden Messenger and a full slate at the Three Rivers Arts Festival.

June 2019: Best of Culture in Pittsburgh

Check out some of the finest plays, dance performances and exhibits taking place this month in Pittsburgh.

Joe Morrison Takes the Director's Chair at Pittsburgh Filmmakers

After years of uncertainty, the cinemas of Pittsburgh Filmmakers now have a leader with experience building and engaging audiences.

Unlock Special View of Pittsburgh for a Limited Time

Attention all boaters! The locks on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers will open most summer weekends, allowing you to visit sights you couldn’t get to before.

Get To Liberty Magic to See the Excellent Billy Kidd

The British magician's new show, "Bridging the Gap," brings theatricality and surprising performance to the parlour-magic stage.

The 400-Word Review: The Perfection

Netflix's troubling new thriller stars Allison Williams and Logan Browning.

Undercover: What We're Reading in June

Reviews of “I”: New and Selected Poems by Toi Derricotte and Regular Hauntings: New and Previous Poems by Gerald Costanzo.

What Are You Doing to be Like Mister Rogers on 1-4-3 Day?

Pennsylvania names May 23 as 1-4-3 Day to celebrate its favorite neighbor.

The 400-Word Review: Aladdin

Disney's live-action remake of the '90s hit stars Will Smith as the iconic Genie.

Sharing Knives Grows into Sharing Farms

For its third season, the collaborative dinner series at Ace Hotel will celebrate the region’s growers.

A Slice of Pizza Kept Sean McDowell Going in the Early Days

After 41 years in the business, the legendary rock DJ on WDVE has announced his retirement.

This New App Will Help You Track Upcoming Cicada Swarm

Follow Brood VIII, which is expected to have three species of periodical cicadas emerging from the soil as early as this month, on the Cicada Safari App.

Best Restaurants in Pittsburgh in 2019

Our annual roundup of Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants covers a lot of ground. The list of 30 includes everything from fine dining at a resort hotel to a scrappy, farm-to-table breakfast and lunch counter in Bloomfield.