The end of September is almost upon us meaning that Halloween is almost upon us. Although I’ve started to see this old cinema tradition go out of style, two types of films are released between now and Halloween. Horror films with mountainous expectations, or kid-friendly spooky films that are not so spooky and more comedic than anything. Proving that Tim Burton can blend scary and friendly together, Eli Roth steps away from his torture porn films to the Goosebumps doubleganger The House with a Clock in its Walls.
You could say for argument’s sake that The House with a Clock in its Walls is opting for a more stick to the system approach as the first few scenes of the film make it clear that there is no motive to be the pinnacle kid-friendly horror film, but instead to charm and entertain. Because of this realization, the specific target audience of this film is trying to reach has been reached. The House with a Clock in its Walls is neither too childish for young kids nor is it too dark for pre-teens somewhere in the middle of that age range is where this film lies.
I have a lot to say about how the film looks and I guess I’ll at least start on a positive note by saying the production design is great for what this film wants to achieve. The main house blends the right amount of gothic fantasy mise-en-scene as well as the classic haunted house look of tall staircases, a study room filled with spell books and furniture that comes to life. To some, this can be outrageously absurd, and it is true that some moments teeter on that scale, but for the most part, the film does a decent job of keeping this in check. Originally, I had thought that the haunted house vibe was in the past and had become corny, so I’m glad that The House with a Clock in its Walls was able to disprove my opinion.
But once passed this, this film becomes as torturous to watch as Eli Roth’s torture horror films, with way too much potty humour that needed. Surely, in this day and age, we have gone past the point for out of the blue toilet humour. But the film feels that it needs to market itself to the immature by throwing in a pooping topiary lion. In an article for Vulture, Eli Roth explains he wanted to create a sense of Spielberg-ian sweetness with Roth rawness. Yes, because a farting, pooping hedge is capturing the magic of a Spielberg film. The topiary lion would have worked much better if it was just that, sights like this should make imagination go wild with excitement, having it repetitively be responsible for the same immature gag over and over again degrades it.
The film boasts around Jack Black as Uncle Jonathan who behaves more like a big kid than a responsible guardian (this becomes quite literal during the film). Don’t get me wrong, whenever Jack Black is onscreen, his charisma and goofiness dominates which is going to be pleasing to his loyal fans. But the more scenes with him in, I started to realize that his fascinating charisma was wearing away on me. To me, Jack Black is going to suffer the same fate of Adam Sandler if something about him doesn’t change. Thinking about it, the two share career similarities, there was a time when both were clown princes of comedy and ruled the roost, but while audiences have discovered new things to laugh about, they haven’t. Something has to change about Jack Black’s acting routine or irrelevancy is his destination.
I also have issues with the main child actor Owen Vaccaro who plays the recently orphaned nephew Lewis. This character feels too innocent as though the film is trying to force feed us his adorableness. Even in the scene where he breaks the only rule given to him, you forgive him almost instantly because “oh, ain’t he adorable”.
What isn’t adorable, however, is the film’s use of special effects which are outrageously goofy and messy, it actually hurts to see how much they stand out from what is real and practical. If there is one thing that a fantasy film must avoid at all cost is cheapness. We want to feel convinced by the magic of this world but there seems to be no boundaries to what is possible with the magic in the film, which is a big no-no. Much like time travel in films, magic must be outlined, there need to be a clear ruleset of what is possible and not possible in this magical world.
You often hear people say that kids’ films should never try too hard because it’s a kid’s film. I disagree, the kids’ films that push at the boundaries of how scary you can create spooky sequences become the more memorable, just look at how the Harry Potter films became progressively scarier for children and they’re the most memorable films that involve magic. The House with a Clock in its Walls never tries harder than it should, resulting in an overwhelmingly disappointing film with humour from the past and wasted potential. “Time is a precious thing, never waste it” Gene Wilder once said, but in The House with a Clock in its Walls, the ticking is so silent, wasting time is all it can achieve. The only people whose time won’t be wasted is it’s intended audience.
Final Result: 2/10 – Very Poor
Have you seen The House with a Clock in its Walls? What did you think? Please let me know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.
Next Time: Night School