There is so much to like about Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls. It has great storytelling, the casting is perfect, the special effects are awesome and many of the film’s messages are worth hearing. The problem comes with the idea that this is a horror movie for kids with witchcraft taking center stage.
Based on the book of the same name by John Bellairs, The House with a Clock in Its Walls begins with 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) being sent to live with his uncle after the death of his parents. Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) is Lewis’ only living relative and one Lewis doesn’t remember ever meeting. Jonathan lives in a old rundown house that the neighbors believe is haunted. The outside is decorated with jack o lanterns (even though it’s not Halloween) and horseshoes. Inside the house however is actually quite nice. Lewis is surprised to see that it is decorated with a rather large collection of clocks.
On his first night at his new home, Lewis learns that there are (almost) no rules and is questioned why one would wait to each cookies for dessert when cookies make for a better dinner. The quirky but very generous and seemingly kind uncle introduces Lewis to Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), his next door neighbor. The two seem to like each other despite the fact that they call each other names. The couple teach Lewis how to play Poker. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett and the new perfect screen couple and should definitely do more movies together. They have a great chemistry. For that matter, the pair work well with Vaccaro too.
Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro and Jack Black (Universal)
Meanwhile at Lewis’ new school, the 10-year-old has a hard time fitting in although one student, Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic), is impressed that Lewis lives in a haunted house. Insisting that it isn’t haunted, he invites Tarby over and as they explore the house, Tarby is interested in seeing what is hidden inside a secret cabinet. The same secret cabinet that Jonathan told Lewis to never open – his only one rule. Just like the Adam and Eve at the garden. Will Lewis open the cabinet? Let’s just say that the story eventually takes a darker turn.
As mentioned before, this movie left me with mixed emotions. On one hand it has great messages about family, accepting one’s “weirdness,” the joy or reading and the reward of working hard. On the other, as a Christian, I struggle with a story that focuses on the subject of witchcraft. Sure, other movies deal with the subject matter too like the Harry Potter franchise, but the difference there is Harry was born a wizard and the story takes place in an imaginary world. This movie takes place in our own world (albeit 1950) and mentions different forms of real witchcraft teachings, the meanings behind some superstitions and more. Also unlike Harry, who had to be a naturally born wizard to use witchcraft, in this story, anyone can become a warlock if they study hard enough. Lewis doesn’t just have an interest in the occult, he’s encouraged to embrace it.
Now, to be fair, for the most part the movie plays out as a fantasy story that isn’t much different than say The Wizard of Oz. In fact, at one point the film makes a nod to the classic film with Lewis asking his uncle if he is a good warlock or a bad one. However, the last quarter of the movie plays out more like a horror film with a real demon and enchanted pumpkins. Though the main character is 10-years-old, I would think that many 10-year-olds in the audience will get freaked out by some of the imagery and themes. It doesn’t help that the the director is known for writing and directing various horror movies such as Hostel, Cabin Fever and The Green Inferno. With that said, the movie keeps the humor going throughout, Jack Black is always comforting and the story ends with a happy ending.
So, I guess I’m saying that you know your kids and know what’s best for them. You might really enjoy the movie as I did, but as adults, we can appreciate a story for what it is. Kids are more impressionable and for that reason, I wouldn’t want my kids to watch this film.