'The House with a Clock in Its Walls' is a charming and magical story about grief, family, and believing in yourself [Review]

From a well-paced storyline to stunning visuals, the Cate Blanchett and Jack Black starrer runs perfectly from start to finish - like clockwork

Heidi Yeung |

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The characters of this film are lovable and eccentric.

From charming characters to stunning visuals, The House with a Clock in Its Walls runs perfectly from start to finish - like clockwork.

Based on a novel of the same title by John Bellairs, recently orphaned Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) moves to New Zebedee, Michigan, to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), whom he’d never met. He quickly meets his uncle’s elegant, and equally mysterious neighbour Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett). While both adults are kind and welcoming, Lewis senses quickly that his new home has secrets. Well, when a place is bursting with clocks, clocks, and more clocks, it's sort of a giveaway!

Director Eli Roth has Lewis find out the truth about his uncle and the house bit by bit, which helps to build layers for the audience to digest. Roth also cleverly works in tributes to some of classic horror films’ most iconic scenes, which will delight older audiences.

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Soon, Lewis does something his uncle told him definitely not to do, and unleashes an evil that wants to wipe out the world in a most unique way. Now the three must work together and overcome their own challenges to save the world.

Black’s comedic flare and Blanchett’s signature Aussie snark play off of each other wonderfully, portraying a deep friendship based on mutual respect and ability to give and take sarcastic comments from each other in equal measure. Their banter provides consistent lightheartedness throughout the film, which grows more vital, as it offers balance for the characters who start revealing and dealing with deeply personal trauma and struggles that add a very human element that counters the film’s magical extravagance.

Can you hear the ticking?
Photo: Intercontinental Film Distributors (H.K.) Limited

If you’ve read Bellairs’ book, perhaps this film adaptation won’t live up to your expectations, but as a viewer who’s unfamiliar with the source material, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is charming, captivating, tear-jerking, and hilarious. The film is magical, but it’s rooted in very relatable themes such as peer pressure, friendship, grief, self-doubt, and courage. Set design and costumes are also gorgeous, and lends to each actors’ characterisation so well.

If you’re after a film that has a great plot and is smart about its jump-scares, you’ll love The House with a Clock in Its Walls.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls opens in Hong Kong cinemas on October 18.