The house with a clock in its walls

- Review by Dara McWade

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The House with a Clock in its Walls feels like it belongs to a different era of filmmaking. Coming from Stephen Spielberg's production company Amblin, it comes complete with your traditional family-friendly Amblin sensibilities. A tale of magic and mystery, the film comes with enough low-key scares to thrill the children that it's so obviously aimed towards, and an engaging atmosphere that should hopefully keep parents involved. Not exactly a project you would associate with Eli Roth, a schlock horror director whose recent Death Wish represents a low in star Bruce Willis's late-stage career (and that's saying something). Very different to this film, which is, by contrast, a breath of fresh air. An imperfect, but enjoyable entry in the vein of children's adventure stories of days past.

The film stars Jack Black and Cate Blanchett; an unconventional pairing of stars that somehow click with screwball styled chemistry. They fire Howard Hawkian style banter at each other, with quip after insult after quip landing in a patter. The role of the friendly, mischievous magician seems tailor made to play to Black's mercurial energy. While his performing style can be a bit, well, "much", it's really leavened by Cate Blanchett's quieter, but no less engaging or intense, performance. Their magic-wielding characters band together to raise Benjamin's "black swan" nephew, who has been recently orphaned in the titular ticking house. Speaking of the house, and general production design, is beautiful, a fifties America that looks like The Shape of Water by way of Harry Potter.

Eric Kripke's (who some readers will recognise as the creator of the undying television show Supernatural) script leaves something to be desired, often relying on shorthand and leaving a lot of the joys of the first time magician unfulfilled. It's also just a little bit too long, which seems a minor complaint, but one that's worth mentioning as the middle is flabby.   

Owen Vaccaro, who plays the young lad the story centres upon, is no fantastic find like Jacob Trembalay or Daniel Radcliffe, but nonetheless holds the film together. Many a children’s film have been destroyed by a lead that just can't hold up a picture - and Vaccaro avoids the trap many fall into, in that he, well, isn't annoying. Eric Kripke's script provides him with enough wit and energy that he can function by himself. The structure feels quite limited as the film is operating in a very specific genre and mode, and it doesn't hold much subversion in it's core. Having said that, it does it's genre well. It's doesn't have the mythic power of a Harry Potter, but the kids will love it.