She’s a Trick House
The House with a Clock in Its Walls came out a couple of years ago to some mixed reviews and I am glad I gave it a shot.
The film takes place in 1955 and follows ten-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who has just lost his parents to a car crash. Despite never meeting him before, Lewis moves to Michigan to live with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). Lewis is a bit of a misfit who struggles to fit into his new surroundings at school as he is the type of kid who would rather learn words from a dictionary than play sports with others.
Moving into Uncle Jon’s house is a major adjustment too. Not only does the house have a mind of its own, but Uncle Jon is obsessed with a strange ticking noise coming from inside its walls. Soon Lewis learns that Uncle Jon is a warlock, and his new, ever-present neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a witch.
Under Uncle Jon’s guidance, Lewis begins teaching himself magic that impresses a classmate, Tarby (Sunny Suljic). But when it appears that Tarby is abandoning him, Lewis is pressured into performing elaborate dark spells; ones that can raise the dead!
Some of the more negative reviews I read for House mention how the imagery did not work for them. There are some floating jack-o-lanterns, creepy dolls, a “hedge lion”, and… well, I don’t want to spoil the creepiest thing…. but you’ll know when you get to it! (Personally, I thought it was hilarious!) The film is directed by Eli Roth, who is best known for his work in the horror genre, but I feel he stayed true to a PG rating. To me, nothing I saw felt worse than what you would see on a Saturday morning cartoon. (Remember those?)
House is a home run in my book. It sets out to be a fun movie and it accomplishes just that. Lewis might be the first kid I have seen in a long time who experiences a range of emotions as the fantastical happens around him instead of that “too cool for school” attitude which has infested every kids film today. Also, Jack Black and Cate Blanchette have some genuine chemistry as their characters lovingly insult each other. They are good fun.
I also read how people have an issue with how House shifts in tone a few times between “dark fantasy” and “a kids movie”. Personally, I thought it was great. As someone who grew up on films that have a similar vibe like The Goonies, I felt more at home than awkward. Some movies that mix some disturbing imagery with a light tone can become the best childhood memories. Ghostbusters, Willow, and Raiders of The Lost Ark just to name a few. House had me wishing I was watching it for the first time as a 10-year-old.