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Eli Roth family film left stagnant by evil magic

Family Halloween movie meets extreme horror director and gore aficionado Eli Roth. A recipe for a bland and forgettable fantasy film. Who would’ve guessed that?

Directed by Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), The House with a Clock in Its Walls stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan and Renée Elise Goldsberry.

Based in the 1950’s, a young orphan, Lewis Barnavelt, helps his guardian and estranged uncle/warlock, Jonathan Barnavelt, and his neighbor find and demolish a mysterious clock that can destroy humanity. The only thing in their way is an evil warlock’s presence who wants to use it for its intended purpose.

Horror for kids can go a long way. Last year’s Goosebumps was an unexpected hit, with Coraline and Gremlins backing up the genre’s top notch examples.

Having director and screenwriter Eli Roth — who is as close as a director can get to serial killer status — behind The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a sure-fire shot to be creepy and fun. Fortunately, it delivers on the creepiness and excitability aspects but only for a split second of the cinema world.

Nothing in Roth’s family horror is memorable or is worthy enough to run a franchise. Pity since the source material is based on a series of 12 books, authored by John Bellairs.

From beginning to end, The House with a Clock in Its Walls feels rushed. It’s ironic considering the incredibly long title. There are various points where instead of Lewis figuring things out for himself, as he’s such a smart protagonist, he is just told a certain history or given a long speech about why things are the way that they are; a plethora of expositions scenes lends itself a bad taste.

I understand The House with a Clock in Its Walls is meant to be a kid’s film, but it can’t dial down on what makes a good movie. There are films with similar storylines that aren’t as exposition-heavy as Roth’s new film, like the Harry Potter films. Yes, that had eight films to explain some rules and characters’ backgrounds, but the filmmakers decided not to just throw everything at the audience like they were dumb.

Besides the heavy expositions, I did enjoy the ride while it lasted. Jack Black is the same as every character he’s ever played but with a family tone, Cate Blanchett decides to be silly and not go for Oscar-caliber acting, and the magic surrounding this house is charming in some ways.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls allowed for a somewhat-contained story, which I found to be an interesting change of pace for a movie that has to do with warlocks and witches and demons. There are lulls of boring and unnecessary characters at the school Lewis attended, and I couldn’t be more annoyed with their stereotypical personas. However, the main gang of characters like Lewis, Uncle Johnny and Ms. Zimmerman are enjoyable as a dysfunctional and atypical family.

The writing never amazes me, but now that I’ve accepted it to be only a kid’s movie for a kid’s Halloween party, I’m more open to the idea of it being a passable film to watch.

Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls isn’t an emotional roller coaster ride of emotions that Pixar can portray or even has silly and exaggerated slapstick comedy that some of Sony Animations films uses. It’s a harmless film for children and families who want to have fun this upcoming Halloween.

But a little note to Roth: I don’t know what the MPAA ratings rules are against blood in PG-rated movies but it would’ve been cool to see Lewis torture the villain, a la Hostel.

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