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The House with a Clock in Its Walls Movie Review

Magic should be personal.

Reviewed by on Sep 20, 2018
Rating: 3 Star Rating

Kidzworld saw The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Is it magical fun or deathly dull? Check out our movie review of this family-friendly ghoul-fest.

By: Lynn Barker

In The House with a Clock in Its Walls, it’s 1955 and orphaned,10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) has to go live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in a spooky old house in a new town. Jon is weird but nice and has a cool and strange next-door neighbor called Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) who turns out to be a witch to Jon’s warlock. Lewis begs to learn magic so Jon teaches him. When Lewis uses a forbidden spell, he raises from the dead the former owner of the house Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) who wants to use the clock he’s installed in the house to reverse time…to the beginning of life on Earth. Can new-to-magic Lewis stop him?

Izard comes up with his plan to reverse timeIzard comes up with his plan to reverse timeCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

Welcome to Weirdsville

After his parents are killed in a car wreck, young Lewis takes a bus to New Zebedee, Michigan to live with his mom’s brother Jonathan. Jon is weird but friendly. It’s his house that is scary. It’s full of clocks of all kinds but there is an additional ticking in the walls. Jon’s buddies are an armchair that moves and makes doggie sounds and the topiary lion outside who keeps pooping in odd places. The main stained-glass window morphs into various scenes. Jon’s neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman joins him in constantly trying to find the big clock hidden somewhere in the house. It’s counting down to something….bad.

Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman wave as Lewis goes to schoolJonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman wave as Lewis goes to schoolCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

At a New School

Lewis, who wears bow ties and weird aviator glasses because his hero Captain Midnight wears them, is instantly ridiculed at his new school. Only a pretty and seemingly shy girl and semi-popular kid Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic) befriends him but is his kindness sincere or does he just want a vote since he’s running for student body leader? Tarby tells Lewis that his new home is called the “Slaughterhouse” because some old guy killed someone there.

Very few of the kids at school are friendlyVery few of the kids at school are friendlyCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

Night Scares

That night Lewis “dreams” he sees his mom who tells him he is in danger and encourages him to “find the key and get the book”. Huh? Scared and confused, Lewis wakes to the horrible ticking in the walls. After seeing several other weird creatures and happenings, frightened Lewis packs to leave only to have a stained glass window morph into the words “Don’t go”. Jon admits that he is a warlock, a male witch and Florence Zimmerman from next door is a very powerful witch. There is a clock in the walls planted there by magician/warlock Isaac Izard and it’s counting down to something awful. Seems Izard blew himself up with a spell in the house years ago.

Lewis is frightened and wants to leaveLewis is frightened and wants to leaveCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

The Locked Cabinet

Lewis begs to learn magic and Jon will teach him but he must never open a certain locked cabinet, ever! Lewis agrees. Jon tells Lewis he must find his own unique style of magic to make spells work. At school, Tarby tells Lewis he’d be cooler if he “loses the goggles”. At home, Lewis sees many cool spells and learns to throw energy balls around. The clock in the walls is now chiming three gongs. Jon is sure when it’s down to one, all heck will break lose. Tarby doesn’t believe that Lewis can do spells. He comes to the house, finds the key to the secret, forbidden cabinet and opens it. Inside is a book on necromancy, raising the dead!

Jonathan teaches Lewis to form an energy ballJonathan teaches Lewis to form an energy ballCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

To the Cemetery

After Tarby is elected, he reverts to the true jerk he is, ignoring or dissing Lewis. In order to win back his new “friend”, Lewis says he can raise the dead with a spell from the book. The guys go to the local cemetery and the book guides them to a grave. Lewis reads the spell and “someone” starts coming out of the grave. It’s Izard! Jon reads the signs, Izard is coming home. He needs Mrs. Zimmerman’s magical help but she says she no longer has her powers. She’s been faking them since her family died. She also relates the tale of Izard’s past. After meeting a mentor/wizard in Germany during WW II, he returned with dark powers, married a witch named Selena and supposedly killed her in the house.

Mrs. Zimmerman and Jonathan can create many wondersMrs. Zimmerman and Jonathan can create many wondersCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

The Plans for the Clock

After Jon finds plans and notes for the clock in the walls, Lewis is able to decode them. Izard planned for the clock to count down until the night of a full moon eclipse at which time the clock would quickly count backwards, turning back time to the beginning of the Earth. Only he and Selena, who didn’t die after all, would inhabit the planet. When the reanimated Izard takes over the house, can his plan work or will Lewis find his true, personal magic and, with the aid of Jon and Mrs. Z, be able to stop the clock?

Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman and Lewis prepare to fight IzardJonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman and Lewis prepare to fight IzardCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

Wrapping Up

This film adaptation of John Bellairs' 1973 young adult fantasy novel is meant to be a family-friendly blend of humor and horror. Sometimes it is but many times it fails.  Scenes at Lewis’s school seem almost out of another movie. His relationships are introduced but don’t really go anywhere. The film seems long and could do without the school scenes entirely.

Lewis starts to learn magicLewis starts to learn magicCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

The story wants to play like a 1980’s Gremlins or Goonies adventure but it’s convoluted and too predictable. For a movie with the potential for very cool, unique magic we haven’t seen before, it disappoints. The magic “gags” are timeworn. You’ve seen a lot of the “weird stuff” in the house before in other films (scary pumpkins, evil, mechanical dolls, etc.) as well.

Jonathan in a room with strange mechanical dollsJonathan in a room with strange mechanical dollsCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

Black and Blanchett toss some funny insults at one another and Black’s usual goofy humor is fun. Young actor Owen Vaccaro plays Lewis well most of the time but bursts into tears at the drop of a hat and overacts a bit too often.

Mrs. Zimmerman hopes her powers will returnMrs. Zimmerman hopes her powers will returnCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

The film’s warm and fuzzy heart might overcome some of its shortcomings but the movie falls into a weird area: too scary for really small kids and not scary enough for older ones. It’s not smart or “new” enough for adults as well. There might be enough scares and humor for some audience members but we rate this one three stars.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls Movie Rating: 3

The House with a Clock in Its Walls Movie PosterCourtesy of Storyteller Distribution Co.

See The House with a Clock in Its Walls in theaters now!

Tell Everyone What You Think!

If you learned magical spells, what would you want to do first? Would you be a good or evil warlock/witch? Leave a comment below or, after you see the film, write your own review on your Kidzworld profile page.