The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018)
You're invited somewhere timeless.
A change of pace is what I do best - or at least, I’d like to claim that but I really tend to just get stuck in one genre for a while and dwell there. Hey, nobody is perfect - sometimes your a broken witch or a lame warlock. Sometimes your an idiot kid trying to make friends by reanimating corpses you probably shouldn’t have reanimated. The chimes are counting down, but it’s the end of the movie that will tell for better or worse: on tonight’s docket is The House with a Clock in Its Walls.
Did you know this was based on or influenced by already existing books? Well, if you answered no then you didn’t watch the movie, because it tells you right at the start. I haven’t read the books (big surprise, am I right?), so we get to lose out on all the possible comparisons of “did it work better or worse.” This, I feel, is about as surprising as getting fat by eating nothing but fast food - my track record is largely “haven’t read it, but I’ve watched it” over the universal time of me doing this- but on the bright side for me, that usually means my enjoyment of the film media is unhindered by the chains of preset expectations and desires. This being a sort of family movie that, I assume, is spread from a family book makes me believe that whatever differences are there are probably as unobtrusive as including three times the fart jokes and as damaging to the psyche as a little CG Jack-baby thing.
But enough about what I don’t know, how about what I do? The movie fits it’s genre demographic to a T. Orphaned kid, strange family, school bullies and doing the wrong things for friendship - morals and fart jokes. Have you seen any other Jack Black family movies? Did you enjoy them? Than the flow and presentation here will probably keep you happy. The main character is our kid more than anyone else, but a good chunk also focuses on the uncle as he works his way about the mystery of an old friend and the potentially terrible thing he may have created within the house. Most of the fantastic and intended spookier elements regard the house specifically - living furniture, creepy mechanical puppets, hidden rooms, and a constant foreboding clock chiming down over the night. Most of the other elements center around the kid and his social life - trying to make friends, finding out some friends are pretty fake, and the not always great decisions made in trying to make/keep them.
The flow is pretty good. It’s not really too much of what you would rather skip, and especially in the house scenes there are always some visual happenings to keep you entertained and unaware of however much time is passing. The progression feels forced in that family movie vein of “eventually, something is going wrong because it has to” sense - usually coming about from a kid doing what they are not supposed to - and dealing with the consequences causing the culmination of the emotional arc to the characters. If you are looking to be surprised or a new refreshing take on the genre, I don’t think this will give it to you - but that doesn’t mean it does a bad job with it either, at the very least no worse than others. The plot seems pretty straight forward, but it does have a twist or two in there as progressions of it’s unfolding story - regardless of being foreseeable, unexpected, or how relevant it may or not be in the whole.
The inclusion of magic helps keep things more visually interesting than some of the genre kin. We get little effects, like playing with energy or some simple alpha-screen video inserts in mirrors. We get some bigger elements, like possessed pumpkins, interactive galaxies, and pooping shrubbery. We also get some horrible things that we really wish we didn’t see - such as a CG baby with a big ole Jack Black head. As you could probably guess, it’s a bit of a mixed bag in the quality, but largely it’s all good enough that it’s never obnoxious to see and fitting with the general movie charm. Some of the jokes come from the effects as well - if pooping shrubbery wasn’t keywords enough for you - and sometimes the effects are used more towards the advancement of the plot. I say advancement, but perhaps that might be giving it slightly a bit much credit, so as such we’ll just say the help make the ride more enjoyable. Costumes get to have some nice spice to them, as since our main characters are “weird” we get things like goggles, plenty of purple, kimonos, and a bunch of period-style fashion for those good old days when you could go out to an ice cream bar and get a decoder ring out of a jar of Ovaltine.
Audio was well balanced, only coming across quiet when that was the point. Music had some finer moments where it stood out as nice - nothing quite an earworm, but scored nicely regardless. It does it’s roll of helping set up the emotions of the scene and playing along with the hype train as needed. Sound effects came out nicely as well, with plenty of sounds to befit the more visual elements from slappy tentacles to giant bush farts. Line delivery is sometimes better than acting itself, particularly around the kids, but it’s not a bad enough job that they make you have less fun and just helps embrace that quirky message of weird being okay - especially when you start evoking spells through the power of the dictionary. The jazz-session might cause some discomfort, and I wouldn’t call it music in most of the sense, as I’m sure is the point but it does set up a nice little scene after one survives it.
All that being said, there is some stuff in there that can be a bit serious - much to the point, if anyone ever watched Monster Squad and suddenly caught on to the fact that “Scary old German Guy” was a unfortunate member of a Nazi Jew camp, they’d recognize a similar moment here. It does not dwell on this, even if it does have that power-mad evil motivated by all the horrors they’ve seen sort of home stretch. It just sort of brings it to the screen, lets it roll past you as it lets another plant take a dump on you - I’d say perhaps that would make it a bit emotionally unbalanced in presentation, but the thing largely always stays on that family movie sort of front so it actually feels a bit fitting. What it ends up doing is adding a bit more of an emotional background to characters without needing to explain much of anything past it - which also helps allow it to not potentially over-burden the younger batch with stock footage flashbacks to the horrors of the past. Of course, they do have some stock footage flashbacks, and it does spell out a lot of things in the bluntest of ways, such as “lost family” as opposed to the exact details of how or why - but I do suppose that’s where the more substantial horror elements will come from for the older audience. That and that CG Jack Black baby. Ugh.
This was about as fun as I expected. It’s a good little time killer, enjoyable but not requiring a whole lot out of me to enjoy it. It gets away with good enough visual presentation, and the jokes got me to chuckle a few times across the run. I admit, some were cheap fart jokes - I’m not going to not laugh at a fart joke, I don’t care how dumb and bad it was - but some were just fun little lines or throwaway actions that happened to be funny at just the right moment to let your guard down enough that you weren’t too high-brow to laugh. The actors, especially the older batch, do a good job, and even the younger ones do a fine enough job that nothing about watching the movie is painful. You’ll probably enjoy it enough for a rental, perhaps even a family night one if you can get over it being about warlocks and witches and the very magic of magic.