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Review: The House With a Clock in Its Walls

The House with a Clock in its Walls is made by Eli Roth (Death Wish, Hostel), one of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors, and it presents an outstanding cast – so why is the result so mundane?

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is the 2018 cinematic adaptation of the omonimous 1973 novel written by John Bellairs.  It stars Jack Black, Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett and Owen Vaccaro.

The plot is fairly linear and relies on many literary cliches from the 60’s and 70’s: Lewis, the protagonist,  is an orphan going to live with an uncle he has never met before in a creaky, mysterious old house. The boy is immediately presented as a lovable weirdo, intelligent beyond his years and obsessed with words to the point that he walks around with a dictionary under his arm. As he struggles to adjust to his new life, Lewis discovers that his uncle Jonathan (Black) is a warlock and that he too can learn the craft – hurray! But a warlock’s life isn’t all fun and games, and before he knows it, Lewis finds himself joining his uncle in a quest to save the world from a clock hidden in the house wall’s – a clock with the power to reverse history to the point of erasing humanity. While struggling with all this, Lewis is also desperately trying to fit in (and fix his uncle’s love life at the same time).

One of the movie’s greatest flaws is the absence of a clear targeted audience: while it seems to be aimed at children in its whimsical inspiration, it also stands in a strange gray area as a movie that doesn’t really fit for kids – or adults for the matter. There are, in fact, mature subject matters and scenes – like war, necromancy, corpses, unsettling living dolls and demonic creatures- but the movie also frequently relies on cheap laughs to give a false sense of lightness which would be perhaps better enjoyed by a younger audience.

This movie had all it needed to be an extremely successful one. Blanchett and Black – despite their clear differences in style- have an extraordinarily catchy chemistry on screen, and young Vaccaro is outstanding as a fearless, committed performer. Costumes, locations and objects are equally brought to life by what was clearly a fantastic crew which gifted this movie with incredible visual appeal, but despite the good execution, the steampunk, dark style selected for the movie immediately recalled the one of many other productions of the last few years (Crimson Peak, Alice in Wonderland, A Series of Unfortunate Events etc) without effectively adding any element of originality.

Because of this lack of freshness and the sometimes painfully slow pace, The House with a Clock in Its Walls did not manage to live up to the hype which had made it one of the most waited-for movies of 2018. Of course, the chore idea of the movie, (as well as in the novel), is wonderful – being weird makes us special, and there will always be people who love us no matter what- but there isn’t much freshness in the way this production delivers the message. Even if the original plot of the book relies on the conventional literary devices we all know, the director of this adaptation must take the blame for not presenting the audience with an unique, interesting take on them.

You can still watch the House with a Clock in its Walls in York’s Everyman Cinema.

Every Tuesday it’s student night in Everyman! For £11.50 you can enjoy one admit to the film, a small popcorn and an Estrella Lager

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Giuditta Amato

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