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Reel Talk: ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’

September 21, 2018

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls,” based on the novel of the same name by John Bellairs, is directed by Eli Roth and stars Owen Vaccaro, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. This wonderfully magical story comes to life for both adults and children to escape into a world of bizarre events where good and evil fight to the death, and a child must save the day.

It’s 1955 and we meet young Lewis (Vaccaro), whose parents have tragically died in a car accident, as he rides a bus to his eccentric Uncle Jonathan’s (Black) house, where he will now reside. Immediately, we know this little guy is whip smart, but also a nerd who has a bit of bullying in store for him in his new school.

That is the least of his issues as he finds strange and disturbing events occurring late in the night in this haunted-looking house. Uncle Jonathan divulges his warlock ways to his nephew, and with the encouragement of the stoically rigid and very purple Mrs. Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett), with whom Jonathan comically banters, the magic training begins for Lewis.

As time ticks away, the mystery of the clock unfolds and together, this band of merry misfits, or “black swans,” must find a way to stop the clock that threatens all of humanity.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a remarkably engaging and vibrant story filled with comedy and light-hearted instances to perfectly balance the impending doom and Lewis’ day-to-day struggle as he grieves the loss of his parents and attempts to fit in at school. It’s obvious that the aviator glasses he dons to imitate his indomitable superhero aren’t going to help him, but we breathe a sigh of relief as the popular boy, Tarby (Sunny Suljic), befriends him.

Of course, this aspect of the story begins to unravel for poor Lewis as it sparks the spell of evil. What began as fun and games of making the stars dance and his Uncle Jonathan levitate, becomes a face-off with Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan,) whom he has accidentally raised from the dead.

The film has all the elements it needs to make this story rise from the pages of a book and become an entrancing event on the big screen. The characters are over-the-top fun with a quick wit and a fast-paced dialogue. Our protagonist, Lewis, is at once lovable with his bow tie, aviator glasses and sweet, emotive face. Not a dull moment occurs in the film, which overflows with brilliant color and every corner filled with interest.

While there are plenty of special effects, it does not overpower the storyline as many of these films tend to do; it’s a good, old-fashioned story.

While the story might be predictable (it is a kids’ book, after all), the cast elevates the tale to a higher level. Black’s comedic timing and acting makes him a perfect fit for portraying the outlandishly peculiar uncle. Blanchett’s poise and grace, paired with her adept and nuanced acting, bring what could have been a dull character to technicolor life.

On paper, these two actors would appear to be polar opposites, but together, their chemistry bubbles like a magic potion. Add to this a remarkably talented, young actor who can carry the lead in this film like a Hollywood Atlas, and you have a recipe for a spell-binding movie.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a film for adults to bring their kids to and be surprisingly entertained. The film transports you to a magical world where you allow yourself to be a kid again, as your own kids watch a youngster deal with bullying and become a stronger and more confident person. There are some scary moments, particularly for younger children, so beware.

4 out of 4 stars.

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