The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Rated 2.0

This feels like a mishmash of many kid-friendly Halloween tales, and a messy mishmash at that. It wants to be Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket and Goosebumps all rolled up into one wacky movie. It’s all a little too much, and it falls apart in its final act. Granted, it’s based upon a novel published in 1973 so, really, the entities mentioned above maybe got inspired by author John Bellairs and his ways of spooking kids with words on paper. As for the cinematic punch, Bellairs and his tome were beaten to it, and this movie adaptation pulls a lot of style choices from films that came before it. If your kids go to this one and then request permission to watch other films by its director, beware, for it’s directed by Eli Roth, frequent purveyor of gross-out torture porn like Cabin Fever, Hostel and The Green Inferno. Roth can conjure some enjoyable elements within the realm of a PG movie, but he can’t quite wrangle all of the story elements together to deliver something that makes sense. While it does contain some genuinely creepy stuff, many of its attempts at frights with living dolls and scary pumpkins feel recycled. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett deliver fun performances as a warlock and semi-retired witch, but much of the film rests upon the young shoulders of Owen Vaccaro as Lewis, an orphan sent to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) in a creepy house. Jonathan and his neighbor Mrs. Zimmermann (Blanchett) eventually start coaching the misfit Lewis in the powers of witchcraft, an offense that would get child services on their asses, even back in the ’50s when this film is set.