The problem with Jack Black’s latest film, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is how derivative and unimaginative it is. It’s a blatant rip off of several recent and upcoming R.L. Stine movie adaptations. It tries really hard to distinguish itself but it doesn’t and Black’s constant winking at the camera doesn’t help matters. Beyond the really long and weird name, this is a movie that wants to be creepy, but can’t go all out because at the end of the day it is a kid’s horror film; so it settles for being weird.
Relatively unknown young actor Owen Vaccaro is fortunate that he doesn’t have to carry this movie on his shoulders because he doesn’t bring much to the role of Lewis Barnevelt a 10 year old kid who recently lost his parents. He goes to live with his weird Uncle Jonathan who spends a lot of time bickering with his best friend and next door neighbor the equally strange Florence Zimmerman placed by a surprisingly wacky Cate Blanchett. With Black and Blanchett spending a majority of the movie chewing scenery and riffing on each other, there’s not much room for Owen to show us what he can do.
Probably just as well, since the few times Owen does get to emote it looks really terrible and hammy, however he has a great face when it comes to discovering all the weird and creepy stuff that goes on in the house. He’s as awkward at school as he is at home, but his school life is made more tolerable when he befriends one of the school’s cool kids – Tarby (played by Sunny Suljic). It’s a weird but interesting friendship. Tarby has that whole young James Deen thing going on with the slick back hair and jacket.
Director Eli Roth’s does what he can with Eric Kripke (former Supernatural Producer) screenplay but it’s kind of a mess. It takes a good hour for the plot to reveal itself, it’s more in love with setting a mood than progressing a story along. The 3rd act is filled with problems including a character twist that came out of left field and the introduction of another character in the last 10 minutes that left me thinking, what was the point of that entire subplot other than to provide a push for Lewis to do something that eventually puts the entire world in danger.
While the choice to set the film in the 50s (I think), it didn’t add anything to the movies story or even look – beyond the exterior shots where we get to see old school cars and the main bad guy’s character ark comes from how his fighting in WWII impacted him. But that motivation could have come from any war and the set decoration on the house just looked like any old antique house.
The movie suffers from both trying too hard and not hard enough to be quirky and I understand this is a kid’s movie but it’s not a very sophisticated one and is ruined by a laughably bad 3rd act. There’s nothing visually interesting or fresh about the movie and from a story perspective it just wasn’t original. I kept thinking I saw this movie before on the Disney Channel or Freeform.
Final Grade D