Directed by: Eli Roth
Written by: Eric Kripke
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renee Elise Goldsberry
Runtime: 104 min
In the tradition of Amblin classics where fantastical events occur in the most unexpected places, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett star in The House with a Clock in Its Walls from Amblin Entertainment.
The magical adventure tells the spine-tingling tale of 10-year-old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) who goes to live with his uncle in a creaky old house with a mysterious tick-tocking heart. But his new town's sleepy façade jolts to life with a secret world of warlocks and witches when Lewis accidentally awakens the dead.
Being a huge fan of any sort of fantasy films, a movie from this genre starring Jack Black and Cate Blanchett obviously caught my attention. I love Jack's performances, and his voice work in animated flicks is brilliant. Blanchett is a renowned and acclaimed actress, who will always belong in my memory as the amazing Galadriel, from The Lord of the Rings, but she has an outstanding filmography filled with award-winning displays.
Despite the hopeful expectations, Eli Roth was an issue, and he ends up proving my concern. The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a snail-paced, magically underwhelming and ultimately dull time at the theater. While the story is indeed intriguing, it is not captivating enough to last more than 90 minutes. It is very predictable, and any sense of surprise is lost towards its ending.
Character-wise, Eric Kripke does a good job. Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) is Lewis's warlock uncle, and he has a troubled past concerning his family. Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is an extremely powerful witch who also has a tragic backstory and Lewis is a poor kid who lost his parents. Unfortunately, a lot of screen time is wasted with some secondary cliche characters who only serve as plot devices to move the plot forward instead of focusing on the family drama. It would have been a much more interesting story, and the whole high-school show that we have seen in thousands of other films could have been removed.
Regarding the magic aspect, obviously, it looks great. The visual effects are beautiful, and the set designs are incredibly creepy and, well, magical. There are a lot of visual details to delight your eyes, but I felt that there was a lack of magic sequences. Watching the trailers and remembering all of the marketing, it feels a bit underwhelming that only near the end I am able to see some actual magic going on.
The biggest positive is undoubtedly the cast. Jack Black is hilarious, and he also nailed the emotional scenes. Blanchett delivers the best performance of the movie, with a remarkable variety of expressions and she also proved that she can easily be as funny as her counterpart. Her chemistry with Black is definitely a standout. Owen Vaccaro is fine. As a lead, he lacks some experience in that role, and it is noticeable. He doesn't ruin the film in any way, but he also doesn't really improve it.
Technically, besides the visually stunning sets, Eli Roth proves that he has a big mountain to climb. The movie's pacing is by far my main problem. Since the story is pretty conventional, the fact that the film moves extremely slow doesn't help to reduce the infinite boredom. Visually, it is striking at times, but there is a particular scene involving Black's character that it is going to be way up there in the list of "worst CGI moments of the century." Tonally, it is okay. I didn't mind the comedy, even if it didn't really get me.
All in all, Eli Roth has to thank his cast and his VFX team for saving what could have been a massive disaster. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett carry the entire thing, while Owen Vaccaro gets away with the fact that he is still young and needs to learn. Unfortunately, a slow pace increases the tedium levels, which were already high due to the predictable and uninventive plot. Visually impeccable during most of the runtime, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is going to be remembered by having one of the worst CGI moments since ... Well, a long time ago. If you plan on watching it, fine. If you don't, you won't regret your decision.