Review: A House with a Clock in its Walls

Let’s be honest, I bet most of you didn’t even know this movie existed until now. With a virtually non-existent marketing budget, I went into this movie knowing nothing – and I walked out knowing I’d remember nothing within a few hours.

From Steven Speilberg’s Amblin Entertainment, The House with a Clock in its Walls is the story of young orphan Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), his magical uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) and platonic roommate Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) as they race against the clock to save the world. If it sounds cliché, that’s because it is, and it makes no effort to hide it.

House with a Clock - Image 1

Set in the 1950s, the movie started off strong with excellent set design and a fantastic use of ticking clocks to build a mysterious, foreboding atmosphere. A solid performance from young actor Owen Vaccaro was very much appreciated, as bad child actors can spell doom for any film – I’m looking at you The Last Airbender. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett also perform well as the eccentric magical guardians and are clearly having fun in what they know won’t be an Oscar-winning success.

But the charming visuals and storytelling start to wear off fast, and by the thirty-minute mark, I felt increasingly agitated in my cinema seat. If you’re even slightly aware of the basic tenets of fantasy stories for children, you know where the movie is going to go. That wouldn’t be a problem, but the characters are so one-note and dull that you don’t really care what happens to them either. It becomes a swirling whirlpool of predictability and boredom, punctuated by cringe-worthy CGI and the painful joke that prompts the odd pity laugh.

House with a Clock - Image 2

Unfortunately, the only real problem with the film happens to be the most important – story. Without the legs to carry an audience, the plot seems to run out of steam as it hobbles along to the finish line. It’s the movie equivalent of sitting in a lecture that should have finished five minutes ago and clock-watching (no pun intended).

There was only one uptick. Spoilers ahead.

Towards the end of the film, a certain character is stumbling through the woods, and happens upon a strange presence. The camera slowly reveals one of the best character designs I’ve seen in any movie this year. Azazel, one of the Princes of Hell, is hunched over a stewing pot within the misty trees, with fingers like blades and an unnervingly realistic smile. The moment only lasts twenty seconds, but it’s the one thing that stuck with me. To whoever designed that creature – bravo.

Apart from that, it’s as run of the mill as you’re going to get. If you’re desperate to part with money and time, and you happen to love the book it was based on – give it a watch.


Sonar Film is showing:

A House with a Clock in its Walls in LT1 until 18 October

Tickets: £4.00 Students/ Staff, £4.50 General Public

Check out their website here.

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