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Halloween Nights: The House with a Clock in Its Walls

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Director: Eli Roth
Writers: Eric Kripke
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro

(Minor Spoilers Ahead)

When I planned out my calendar for my annual “Halloween Nights” feature on That’s Entertainment, I didn’t think my first piece would be on Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls. I was planning on kicking things off with one of my favorite horror films; but at the last-minute decided to go see this film. While it’s hard to see this film as a horror film—on the surface, it feels at home in the Harry Potter genre—it does hit some horror beats. In fact, at closer inspection, it does feel like a throw back to some of my childhood horror movies—The Addams Family, Hocus Pocus, Beetlejuice, etc.

I’m not overly familiar with director Eli Roth; in fact the only other movie I’ve seen of his is Death Wish. I have seen clips of what I know him from though—Hostel—and I am very impressed with the range he has between these three projects.

I’ve never read the source material, so I’ve walked into this film with zero expectations. Typically, when I show up to movies with that mindset, I’m rarely disappointed and The House with a Clock in Its Walls is no exception. I love that they kept the setting in the 1950’s—there doesn’t seem to be any real plot reason to do so, which tends to mean story’s like this are updated to modern times; yet they take the time to recreate the time period.


The House with a Clock in Its Walls centers around Lewis Barnavelt, a young boy who recently lost his parents, adjusting to his new life with his uncle, Johnathan Barnavelt—in hindsight, this implies that Johnathan is brothers with Lewis’ father. I’m almost positive that it was mentioned that Johnathan was Lewis’ mother’s brother in the film. Johnathan’s neighbor and friend is Florence Zimmerman who seemingly helps around the house. Early on in the film, it’s revealed that there is more going on with Lewis’ new family than meets the eye—Johnathan is a Warlock and Florence is a good Witch. This leads to Lewis asking to be taught magic and ultimately help with that nagging ticking in the wall.

The cast is wonderful. I’ve always been a fan of Jack Black (playing Johnathan)—even when his roles are tongue in cheek. Black brings just the right amount of charm to Johnathan and the humor that both he and Cate Blanchett (playing Florence) bring to the movie helps balance the horror elements; making it easier for children to digest. Owen Vaccaro, previously only known for the Daddy’s Home franchise, is wonderful as Lewis. He plays the awkward new kid very well and nearly every action he takes throughout the film makes sense, no matter how much you want to scream at him.


The villains of the film, Isaac and Selena Izzard (played by Kyle MacLachlan and Renée Elise Goldsberry respectively) are a little two-dimensional, though Isaac at least gets a bit of a back story to help the audience try to understand his actions. MacLachlan’s performance as Isaac also helps tighten up this area of the film—although I’ve never taken a deep dive into Twin Peaks, every other performance I’ve seen of his is incredible.

Despite the typical “let’s rule the world” villain story, the final moments of this film really work. There’s some time travel elements, which I’m a sucker for, and Lewis finally takes everything he has learned and puts it to the test. With his family, and the world, at stake, Lewis learns to let go and to say goodbye. The scared boy we’re introduced to in the beginning of the film is no more, he’s now a brave Warlock.


The House with a Clock in Its Walls is a fun horror film. For a younger audience, there may be a few jump scares, but overall it’s a nice introduction to the genre. Black’s performance helps soften some of the creepiness that he runs into throughout the film and the overall story is one that kids and adults can both enjoy. If you’re looking for a new, child-friendly, horror movie to watch with your family, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is worth your consideration—I highly recommend catching it in IMAX if you can; it’s absolutely gorgeous.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is now available in theaters.

Score: ★★★★☆

Kevin M. Gallagher, Jr
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