[Movie Review] The House with a Clock in Its Walls (2018) ★★★★☆

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a delightfully funny journey into the scary realm of magic.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a supernatural comedy horror film for children, but will also be very enjoyable for adults. The story is based on the novel of the same name written by John Bellairs in 1973. Although the novel is over 40 years old, it’s not outdated at all and the film hasn’t changed that much to stay true to the original. With wonderful special effects to make it Halloween scary and thrilling, it succeeds to amaze the kids and to scare the adults with one particular surreal creepy scene. It’s a great magical scary family film to watch together with Halloween. 

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It’s 1955 when Lewis Barnavelt is on his way to live with his uncle Jonathan in New Zebedee after his parents died. His uncle is a bit strange and his neighbor Mrs Florence Zimmerman is even stranger. But what he doesn’t know yet is that they are respectively a wizard and a witch. To make the fun even better, there are no rules and he can eat as much cookies as he likes and go to bed when he’s ready. There’s only one rule: It’s forbidden to open a closed cabinet. 

And there’s more strange things that happen in the night. He hears a clock, but can’t find it and watches his uncle sneak through the house at night. When Lewis makes a new friend, he wants to impress Tarby with magic and of course the closed cabinet doesn’t stay closed, with severe consequences. 

Why you should watch it

While the story sticks to the original one, the emphasis lies more on Uncle Jonathan who is played by Jack Black and on Mrs Zimmerman who is played by Cate Blanchett. They have great chemistry together and steal the show, while Lewis is a character to whom everything just happens and is the embodiment of the children who are watching. While in the book Lewis himself plays a much bigger part. His character is slightly changed to connect to a modern audience, to make his actions more understandable, but that fits perfectly into the story of the film.

The film contains more magic than thrilling or scary scenes, while the book has more scarier parts. The film focuses on humor and the magic itself, but doesn’t forget that it must be creepy at times for children. While the humor and magic is aimed at a younger audience, the background stories of both Uncle Jonathan and Mrs Zimmerman are created to give more body to the adult characters who are now much more than comical notes. It makes them more fleshed out and it adds a bit of tragedy to them, while also connecting them to each other and to Lewis. 

The magic is wonderfully made and the special effects are great and add a real fantasy vibe to the story. While Mrs Zimmerman becomes an even more badass than she already was in the book, Uncle Jonathan is a great comical figure who can be serious if he wants to be, but not that badass. Especially when he is vacuuming in the air and the chair takes a selfie with the whole incident.

The structure and storytelling are clearly aimed at a younger audience, but the scary scenes take kids just as seriously as the book, and knows that children like to be scared in a safe environment, especially when watching it with the whole family. The pace, the way the scary parts are combined with the humor and action and serious parts is well-crafted into a compelling story. Some imaginative cinematography by telling a story by looking through a telescope is creative and adds something special to the story. 

The scary scenes contain creepy dolls that come to life, a demon Azazel, evil witches and Uncle Jonathan who transforms into a baby. But even these scary scenes are kept lighter due to the music and the always confident Mrs Zimmerman. While the search of the Clock in the house is a very exciting adventure that can be quite dangerous and magical at the same time. Because that’s what the story is all about. This mysterious ticking clock and its makers, the former residents of the house, Isaac Izard and his wife Selena, an evil warlock and an evil witch. They now have more background story to them and a big twist lies ahead. 

There are some changes made to create a more enticing story that works better on screen than on the pages of a book. Because the visual aspect is added new creative storylines make it more visually scary and tell a bigger story, where Lewis didn’t have a hand in. The vibe is very much the same and the book comes to life in a magical way, just like Uncle Jonathan’s house. 

My favorite part

I liked the bewitched chair that now has become a real character itself. Now that it’s all visual, the magic really comes to life and the house is an even more magical place than in the book. Maybe less scary, but more adventurous and with more fantasy elements, this is an enchanting scary story that will speak to kids who love a scary story. And for the adults is Jack Black’s head put upon a baby’s body the most creepy thing of the whole film. It’s a sight you won’t forget anytime soon and very disturbing, although also in a very fun way. 


Rating: ★★★★☆

Scare factor: ★★★☆☆

Originality factor: ★★★★☆

Entertainment factor: ★★★★★

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Cast and crew

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is directed by Eli Roth and written by Eric Kripke. It’s based on the children’s novel The House With a Clock in Its Walls written by John Bellairs in 1973. It stars Jack Black (Uncle Jonathan), Cate Blanchett (Florence Zimmerman), Owen Vaccaro (Lewis Barnavelt), Renée Elise Goldsberry (Selena Izard), Kyle MacLachlan (Isaac Izard), Colleen Camp (Mrs. Hanchett) and Sunny Suljic (Tarby Corrigan).

Duration: 105 minutes. Music by: Nathan Barr. Cinematography: Rogier Stoffers. Edited by: Andrew S. Eisen, Fred Raskin. Produced by: Bradley J. Fischer, James Vanderbilt, Eric Kripke. Production company: Amblin Entertainment, Reliance Entertainment, Mythology Entertainment. Distributed by: Universal Pictures.

Check the trailer below

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