Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up and meet… Eli Roth? Wait, what’s going on here? Yes, as bizarre as it may seem, the taboo-flouting director of the torture-porn Hostel movies has tapped into his inner Hufflepuff for what has to be one of the oddest career change-ups in Hollywood memory. Odder still, it kind of works.
Adapted from John Bellairs’ 1973 YA mystery fantasia, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is like a mash-up of Harry Potter, The Addams Family, and the Goosebumps saga, but busier, noisier, and more exhausting. It’s mostly giddy, ghouly fun — even if you walk away with the impression that it might have made a slightly better Universal Theme Park attraction than a film.
Owen Vaccaro stars as Lewis, a 10-year-old orphan who moves in with his eccentric Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) and his daffy neighbor (Cate Blanchett), who just happen to be a warlock and a witch trying to find a mysterious clock with dark powers hidden somewhere in his magical, haunted Victorian mansion.
Spells are taught, life lessons are learned, bravery is found, and evil is vanquished — all in a swirl of playful CGI pixie dust. Black, no surprise, steals the show, manically hamming it up like Harry Houdini on laughing gas, while Roth tries to keep the breakneck pace of his phantasmagoria going. As someone who was growing bored with Roth’s gory shockfests, I say: “Welcome to the kiddie table, Eli.” B-