Movie Review: The House with a Clock tick-tocks just fine

Movie Review: The House with a Clock tick-tocks just fine
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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The House with a Clock in its Walls is even stranger than its title suggests. Its confusing name is fitting for a confusing movie trying to be and feel like several kinds of entertainment. But strangest of all – despite a shaky foundation, the house is somewhat enjoyable to spend time in.

This creation is the creative odyssey of director Eli Roth, best known for his intense, adult horror films. This is his first PG venture into making a story for families. Part of Roth’s strategy in bridging a gap is the mind-boggling classification described above.

The titular house is home to recently orphaned Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) moving in with his eccentric Uncle Jon (Jack Black.) Lewis quickly discovers the house and his uncle are magic, leading to him beginning to learn magical arts.

But there’s a clock in the house – and an evil spell that makes it tick, along with other macabre surprises in the mansion. If only Lewis, with his new confidence and determined individuality, could save the day with a spell only he can do! (Don’t worry. Like Uncle Jonathan says, that’s just the start to learning magic.)

So is it a family comedy? Is it a blockbuster fantasy? Maybe a Halloween-ish horror for children to explore the genre? Or is it a gentle family drama? Ultimately, the movie is an odd combination of them all. If that range of movie crammed into one sounds boring or confusing to you, this definitely isn’t the film for you.

Courtesy: Universal Pictures

Audiences with some patience and forgiving nature, however, may be pleasantly surprised. The truly spectacular production design is full of bright costumes, show-stopping sets and a few sincerely funny props. The clocks, of course, top them all.

In many ways the clock is a brilliant set piece that encompasses the story’s best. It shows how time expands the best ideas and worst fears in each of us. The clock represents how families can work together harmoniously. It also teaches us a cog out of place can be catastrophic.


The movements between scenes and tones, appropriately, feel like a questionably maintained clock. There’s a fine line between the horror/comedy mixed style ticking along smoothly and leaving an audience ticked off.

What’s inhibiting about Roth’s approach to family-friendly horror is some elements might be too intense for young children. The goofy pumpkin monsters are one thing. The metallic doll statue is another. And the robotic devil ornament that jumps out from a shelf is where some parents will draw the line.

Most children aged 10 and up will take House with a Clock in stride, appreciating the whimsical spooks in the movie. But there are several macabre costumes and set pieces that have a ghoulish (and sometimes gross) appearance.

Two young children in my screening, while not scared, were audibly upset by the clearly evil characters. There’s a few monster-ish types, but not many.

Families with grade school children will fare best with The House with a Clock in its Walls. It’s not scary to actually turn people away or bore them. Its much better than 2016’s similarly spooky Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Time well spent is relative to the sternness you value each second. If passable warmth starting the fall season is sufficient for you, these charming, chiming walls will be a welcome distraction.

The House with a Clock in its Walls
2 1/2 out of 4 stars

PG, 1hrs 45mins. Family Fantasy.
Directed by Eli Roth.
Starring Owen Vaccaro, Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Lorenza Izzo.
Now Playing at Film.Ca Cinemas, Cineplex Winston Churchill and Cineplex Oakville & VIP. Also in IMAX 3D.


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