Don’t be confused, The House with a Clock in its Walls is not a spinoff of the Goosebumps series. It is instead a mysterious adaptation of a relatively unknown book to modern audiences. Written for screen by the creator of Supernatural and directed by Eli Roth, a director who seems completely out of place for a PG rated children’s film, so...let’s see just what exactly this film is...
Director Eli Roth if you are unaware, is a very gore centric filmmaker, his films have primarily been labeled as “Torture Porn”, similar to the likes of the Saw franchise. Now after years of making those controversial pictures, he releases a PG children’s film based on a book that I personally have never heard of existing. What I am trying to say is that this is an extremely odd change of pace for the director and while it does still attribute for his usual tropes as a filmmaker, the gore is substituted for cheesy atmosphere and pumpkin guts. For me the film drudged up a lot of bad memories of the 2003 The Haunted Mansion film, with it’s grand mansion and old fashioned haunted-esque qualities. To be perfectly honest, from the Universal logo to the 15 minute mark, the film drew me in and I was excited to be a part of it, but something unexplainable changed. I’m not sure if the tone shifted slightly or several unlikable characters were introduced, or maybe the fact that as the film dragged on the characters that seemed comical and whitty were actually just empty shells, still waiting indefinitely to be inhabited by strong characterization.
The adapted screenplay is written by Eric Kripke, the creator of one of my favorite shows ever to hit the airwaves, Supernatural. Unfortunately the name doesn’t bring along the fun characters from that show, and he is forced to use a ‘pilot episode’ sense of characterization instead of exploring them further throughout an entire season of a show. Not unlike his previous effort on the silver screen, his script is plagued by exposition on top of exposition, with the film feeling boiled down to endless flashback moments, scene after scene. I really did like where the story was headed though, up until around the fifteen minute mark, then things changed. When Jack Black and Cate Blanchett’s characters wave goodbye to their new housemate, that’s when my smile faded, my laughter subsided and I was awkwardly watching in my seat for the remainder of the runtime; trying my hardest to make heads or tails of what exactly was the purpose of this film. There are certain elements of the film that are meant to be reflected upon when their ‘surprise’ twists occur, but they’re so genuinely obvious to be wicked, that it doesn’t leave much interest in seeing how things turn out. Same goes for the evil plan the film takes on halfway through, as it doesn’t have much impact when the film itself only has the explanation being “we don’t know what it does, except something horrible” when asked about the titular clock. Sure, later it is said to be a “doomsday clock” but it just didn’t revinate well with me and just felt in a way, lazy.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
Jack Black is stellar as Uncle Jonathan and his killer performance in this, considering the lack there of character development, is always entertaining. Even with little characterization Black’s Uncle Jonathan is given the most backstory of all the characters through the slum of flashbacks we are shown. Cate Blanchett’s Mrs. Zimmerman has very minimal characterization, beyond that she had a family that perished, but that sentiment isn’t brought into her backstory until very late in the film. Making her character for the majority of the picture existing just to crack insults at Jack Black’s Uncle Jonathan and have them thrown simultaneously back. Now this is where Director Eli Roth typically has most of his faults, that pertaining to the quality of acting displayed on screen. This is much more attributed to the child actors, namely the star of the film, Owen Vaccaro. I absolutely hate insulting child actors’ abilities because, well they’re young and still learning, but some things have to be said, no matter how brutal. Vaccaro has starred in three mainstream films, all critically bashed and his performance never really helps, those films being the Daddy’s Home series and Mother’s Day. The truth is that Vaccaro will underact emotionally in a majority of the scenes, where Black and Blanchett are giving an acceptable effort, Vaccaro fails to bring any kind of emotion to the table. Until he suddenly does, but when he does, he manages to overact so much that it’s almost unbelievable that the footage made it into the final cut. On top of that, I’d also like to note that the villains in the film (MacLachlan, Goldsberry) weren’t all that impressive or intimidating; as they were built around an incredibly silly atmosphere, that their appearance brought little threat to the overall film, especially when conjuring a (SPOILER) Jack Black baby.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Eli Roth teams up once again with Composer Nathan Barr (Cabin Fever, Hostel) to bring a score to the film that really capitalizes on its silly horror elements. His score reminded me of what you may hear while riding The Haunted Mansion ride in Disney World, it’s something you can come to expect from an older fashioned horror film. It provides a sense of wonder in aspects of the film and while it may at times, sound generic in terms of what you’d expect, the score is certainly one of the better aspects of the film. It’s not something that will be sought after to be listened to after the film is complete, but it serves its purpose and for this film, that’s first rate.
The House with a Clock in Its Walls suffers with it’s usage of digital effects that don’t produce the results I’m sure Eli Roth was wanting. However, Eli Roth is known for practical effects in a majority of his features, but the ratio between practical and digital seems to be leaning much more for the latter. However when the digital effects do work, they are wonderful, but that compared to the number of ignominious snake arms, live pumpkins, and witchcraft is a tad ridiculous.
To tell the truth of how I felt when the film faded to black, I absolutely hated it. Everything about it felt like it was being bogged down by misfortune from the start, with numerous issues with the story, CGI, and tone after the fascinating first fifteen of the film. The villain is wasted for a bland, poorly explained conclusion that steeps so low as to have a hideous CGI head attached to a baby’s body. It is true that the dialogue does have it’s charm, but after the same jokes are referenced repeatedly, it all gets tiresome and that’s not even mentioning the embarrassing repetition of a lion shaped hedge evacuating its bowels on a main character. The film loses its tone quickly, becoming unrecognizable with unlikable, unfamiliar characters that have little to do than banter back and forth, searching for a clock in the walls that does something that is never well explained. It’s certainly one to miss and one I sadly can’t recommend for any reason, including the almost always enjoyable Jack Black.