There’s been a modest resurgence of oddball, family-friendly fantasies. We were reminded of it with Tim Burton’s Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, and now with Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls. While I’m more of a fan of how the former balanced all of its supernatural factors, I still really liked and admired Roth’s kooky flick about an uncle teaching his nephew the tricks of the trade to sorcery.
While on the topic of resurgences, some of you may remember Roth’s freaky reputation. As a filmmaker who brought an era of Video Nasties to the mainstream in the 2000s, Roth repurposed this horror sub-genre film aficionados now know as “torture porn”, which later transitioned into the modern movement of grindhouse cinema. Reflecting on the comparisons to his take on Death Wish earlier this year, Roth still owns that reputation. He cleans up his act well with The House with a Clock in Its Walls, a film that’s a major departure (and success) for the director. However, by having to pitch his film in the bounds of a PG-rating, his latest is almost more absurd than his earlier work.
The film’s literal magic, reminiscent of other Amblin Entertainment titles like Casper and Men in Black, creates outstanding set pieces that expand the movie’s imagination. It’s the type of infectious energy that’s ambitious in its execution, mind-blowing for younger audiences, and nostalgic for older viewers. Without divulging spoilers, it fuels a fun plot involving Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), his mystical neighbour Florence (Cate Blanchett), and young Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) trying to wrangle the present from the past in order to save the future from destruction.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls has so many toys and devices to play with that the story usually has to stall to figure out how to piece everything together. While this results in some temporary lulls and an overuse of certain gags (including topiary turds – you’ll see what I mean), Eli Roth’s fantasy finds ways to frighten and satisfy.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie