The House with a Clock In Its Walls Seemed Good
The House with a Clock in Its Walls delighted at first but steadily worsened. The endless brownie points earned spent themselves too fast and left a husk of a film.
To be fair to it, we can talk about the good first. The house itself—perhaps appropriately—is one of the biggest draws. I’ve no idea who they hired to do set design, but this is one of the most fantastic locations I’ve seen in any film. Every room has personality, and every decorative choice is distinct. It lends the film’s opening scenes the correct whimsy, mystery, and charm to bring anyone into the story.
This Setting Is One Of The Coolest Magical Houses
And, for the first part, they mostly held this enchanting tone on every axis. This movie is based on a children’s book (that I haven’t read), and it feels like it in the best possible way. It has real A Series of Unfortunate Events energy. The tried-and-true tropes of orphaned children, new towns, off-limit secrets, and eccentric relatives all work wonders. During the movie’s best moments, it evokes nostalgia better than movies designed to do the same. It even includes the common practice of sneaking in dark subjects in such a way children are less likely to notice. Sometimes it’s simply acknowledging grief, death, and violence without it taking over the story. Grief especially. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie where the main character openly cries multiple times, but it feels correct and emotionally honest in The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Other times it goes further, and, with those parts, I cannot speak on how well or how sensitively they handled it. They make slightly obfuscated references to Nazis, war atrocities, PTSD, and the holocaust. I also cannot speak on how respectful it is with the multiple character arcs (and their resolutions) related to such things.
The House with a Clock In Its Walls Is Rather Bleak
What I can speak about is the characters otherwise. It’s a charming trio of eccentrics with a genuine sense of found family. Jack Black has been in many goofy roles and not-great movies, but he’s charming. His facial expressions and demeanor sell his character, Jonathan, and Jack Black’s energy remains bubbly and infectious. He also plays Jonathan alongside Cate Blanchett’s Florence wonderfully, with a refreshingly platonic friendship between two older, single people that rely on each other for companionship and support. You get the sense they’ve known each other forever. Finally, Owen Vaccaro makes his character, Lewis, precisely what he’s supposed to be. As the audience surrogate and main character, he portrays a lonely, grieving child unsure of how to navigate the world but willing to accept oddball things happening and ask pertinent questions. He has a lot of little mannerisms that don’t even get commented on; they just make sense for the character. It’s a solid, endearing performance. I’m clarifying this heavily because I’m about to say some not-nice stuff about Lewis, and it’s not Owen’s fault. It’s the writing that hampers things.
Not Even A Lot Of Good Acting Can Save The Film
And, yeah, the writing needs help. So does nearly everything else outside my praises. The first real blow is that Lewis’s character doesn’t do that much. Once the real danger starts, it feels like half of his lines are variations on asking one or both his parental figures to help or just yelling their names. He does a few things with magic, sure. He causes and solves a few problems. But the movie overall does a lot less with a warlock in training than you’d expect.
This might be because the film doesn’t care that much for its fantasy aspects. The rules of magic are not explained, and it seems like almost every character is only capable of minor tricks. I don’t mind low-level magic as the benchmark—it makes its secret existence more believable—but it’s so inconsistent even within that framework. Lewis must speak most spells. Florence (Cate) relies on a wand almost entirely. Magic seems so easy anyone could accidentally use it. What I’m saying is Centaurworld had more cohesive power systems.
The Magic Pretends To Have Any Cohesive Rules
Its usage of magic is also where the elements that make this movie so much weaker come from. The sometimes-awkward CGI moments are forgivable—not every movie has Marvel’s budget—but it’s the “comedy” that irks me. It’s a style I hate every single time: juvenile, gross-out humor. Randomly in The House with a Clock in Its Walls, and to the uttermost detriment of the tone, esthetic, and stakes, a poop or pee joke will show up. The absolute worst happens towards the end of the film and ruins the entire action sequence. The “baby body” moment is so jarring, actually disturbing, and very much not funny. I brushed off the inclusion of a pooping topiary as a simple misjudgment and probably an addition for entertaining the youngest of possible audiences, but that“baby” moment is unforgivable. The same scene, only moments later, is supposed to pay off the main character’s arc and clarify a whole theme of the movie. It instead ruins most of its narrative weight with inexplicable drivel.
I was hoping to like this film. The cohesion of the first while held with impressive skill. Watching felt like reading fantasy books as a kid—the same delight as cracking open Percy Jackson or Artemis Fowl for the first time. I was excited to see Lewis learn magic, to have him use it to better his life. But even that obligatory montage failed me. The House with a Clock in Its Walls had the actors, the set, and the basic plot to ensure a nigh-perfect piece of entertainment. Shame it’s ultimately doomed by its blunders to be another dumb kids’ movie.
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