The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

Some wounds need time to heal. Others stay with you awhile and ooze. The House with a Clock in its Walls is the story about oozing wounds… the loss of family, in all its incarnations. By the end, the damaged trio of “oddballs” have found each other and created a new family, of “black swans” (instead of sheep).

The goggle-wearing, book-loving, dictionary-reading Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is still reeling from the loss of his parents in a car accident. He misses them so much, he pretends their last present to him (a magic eight ball) is a way to communicate with them. But soon, he finds a great deal more “magic” in the home of his eccentric uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black). Next door neighbors with his best friend, the “walking purple skeleton” Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), Uncle Jonathan doesn’t care how late Lewis stays up, what he eats for dinner (cookies are fine, young man), or what he does in his spare time. It’s a house with no rules, just a lot of clocks.

They crowd every surface and tick through the night, but not loud enough to disguise Jonathan prowling through the eerie place, knocking on walls. And when Lewis finds out why, he wishes he hadn’t. But maybe if his uncle had told him the entire truth, and the story behind his one rule (don’t look in that cabinet), Lewis might not have performed a bit of dangerous magic with evil repercussions.

For about the first hour of this story, I was utterly enchanted. It follows the children’s novel by John Bellairs (first published in 1973) closely and includes a lot of what makes the book so much fun to read—the witty insults that fly fast and frequent between Jonathan and Florence, paired with the atmospheric and frankly wonderful visuals of a magical house in 1955. In some ways, it has expounded on and improved the book, by giving Florence a sad back story, giving her an out-of-control purple garden snake, and avoiding a few of the more tedious sections (such as the night of the endless drive). But then the book and the movie takes a darker twist into necromancy and its aftermath; it’s never portrayed as good (Lewis learns the hard way why you should let sleeping skeletons lie) but it comes with a lot of unsettling grotesque images and scenes, including flashbacks of one character making a pact with a demon. There's also the presence of evil, but no God (demons want to end humanity and bring about a new age without people).

Overall, I thought it was one of the best adaptations from a book I’ve ever seen; the director hit all the right cinematic notes by blending charm, humor, and horror. The cast is fantastic. But there were moments that did not sit right with me from a spiritual perspective. Lewis learns he shouldn’t dabble with dark forces… but seeing them so vividly on-screen was enough to raise the hair on the back of my neck. Even so, there’s a lot of good lessons here too, about facing your fears, owning up to your mistakes, taking responsibility for your actions, making sacrifices for your friends, and moving on from traumatic experiences. You just might want to leave the kids at home; this could give them nightmares.

Sexual Content:
A woman says she and a man are not doing "kissy face stuff" (not seeing each other). A naked baby (no nudity).
 
Language:
A couple of uses of damn, hell, good lord, and oh my geeod.
 
Violence:
A boy cuts his hand and bleeds on a spell book. A man cuts his hand and lets a demon with a long tongue lap it up. Lots of scary scenes inside and around a house, where various things (evil pumpkins, dolls / toys, books, shrubs, etc) attack people. A bully shoves kids around at school and punches one boy in the stomach.


Other:
Heavy occult content. Lots of magic. Dark / sinister scenes of raising a corpse from the dead; a reference to demons and demonic possession; a plot revolves around bringing about the "end of days."