The House with a Clock in Its Walls

In Cinemas Now

This house knows what makes you tick.

Jack Black and Oscar winner Cate Blanchett lead this family-friendly spook house feature from Amblin Entertainment, following a young orphan who goes to live with his uncle in his mysterious mansion.

The film is based on the beloved children’s classic written by John Bellairs and illustrated by Edward Gorey. Responsible for adult-only horrors like Hostel and The Green Inferno, this is director Eli Roth's first film appropriate for youngsters.

Trailers

Directed by

Written by

  • Eric Kripke
  • (based on the children's book of the same name by John Bellairs)

Kids & Family, Fantasy, Mystery, Blockbuster

104mins

Rating: PG Mild supernatural themes and violence, some scary scenes

USA

Eli Roth came out of the gate looking like he might be a new horror auteur. Cabin Fever and the Hostel films had a bit of style to go with their buckets of gore, and they had ideas behind them (whether you found those ideas puerile is another matter). Then followed a slippery slope from Green Inferno to the Death Wish reboot. Roth seemed to have run out of steam.

Which brings us to The House with a Clock in Its Walls, championed as a new direction for the director. Much like Amblin brought on Joe Dante to provide relatively kid-friendly scares in Gremlins (after he’d made his mark with Piranha and The Howling), the company has made a similar bet here. Sadly, there isn’t much of Roth’s early enthusiasm to be found.

It’s well made and plods along amiably, but the movie suffers from being shockingly familiar. It’s based on a novel from 1973, predating Harry Potter by several decades, but that franchise cast such a big shadow it seems impossible for Roth and co. to escape.

Jack Black’s kimono-clad, saxophone-playing uncle does feel like a creation of the seventies, but he also feels very ‘Young Adult Fiction’, thanks to years of similar fare and subsequent big screen adaptations. Cate Blanchett outshines the material every time she’s on screen, as expected, but the real draw cast-wise is Kyle MacLachlan, clearly relishing his unfortunately brief role.

It’s not that any of this is bad, per se, it’s just that we’ve seen it all before. If you’re making a film about a boy wizard drawn into a magical world you should make an effort to set yourself aside from the pack, and apart the odd gross-out gag, The House with a Clock in Its Walls never does.

Empire (UK)

press

A solid creepshow for (older) kids, which channels the visual appeal of '80s Amblin adventures while lacking their storytelling panache.

Screen International

press

Despite a fantastical premise and some truly eye-popping effects, The House With A Clock In Its Walls suffers from post-Potter fatigue; there's simply nothing here, visual or thematic, that hasn't been done before.

Hollywood Reporter

press

It largely succeeds, buoyed by Black's typical exuberance, Blanchett's typical slyness and a richly evocative rendering of a Rockwellian suburb sprinkled with goofer dust.

Variety (USA)

press

Roth adapts his skills quite nicely to this project's PG rating, delivering minor jolts where appropriate, and leaning on "Goosebumps" star Jack Black to leaven things with comedy throughout.

FilmInk (Australia)

press

...an incredibly entertaining, if derivative around the edges, family-friendly fantasy flick...

Total Film (UK)

press

An engaging new direction for Eli Roth, who offsets the odd tonal hiccup with plenty of ghoulish delights.

Los Angeles Times

press

At his best, Roth plunders elements from countless other tales of supernatural spookery... and nudges them eerily close to genuine enchantment.

New York Times

press

No film in which Cate Blanchett head-butts a vivified jack-o'-lantern could be entirely without merit.

Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)

press

A celebration of the weird, this is a movie Robert Rodriguez or Tim Burton would be proud of. Former horror enfant terrible Roth may have just found his new calling.

a strange tale with a darker underbelly.

I enjoyed this film, its kinda quirky for a kids flick which I like with darker thread through it which my daughter found a bit scary (shes 9) so I'd say don't go with very young children. It's not especially unique in plot but it just tickles my quirky funny bone that I liked it I just felt like there wasn't enough plot. Perhaps the book might have more that wasn't put on the screen, I don't know.


Tick Tock Kaboom

This is a lack lustre affair. The magic is so unbelievable - its more special effect magic than believable magic. Story was ok, characters one dimensional. In places it was very heavy going.