Blanchett and Black Are the Ticking Clocks in ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’

By Tracy Wang

The movie industry seems to be overloaded with films on magic and warlocks recently. Wands are pointed, spells are whispered and the air is filled with a sense of wonder. Eli Roth’s ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ are all that (minus the wands) and more with Cate Blanchett and Jack Black’s witty performances that could easily light up and carry the whole film.

Recently orphaned because of a car accident that killed his parents, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) takes a bus to New Zebedee, Michigan, and meets up with his eccentric uncle Jonathan Barnavelt (Black), who has left home to become a warlock. A kid who loves to read the dictionary, Lewis is delighted to live with an uncle who only sets one rule, that is to never open a locked cabinet, and a Florence Zimmerman (Blanchett), his uncle’s neighbor and best friend.

However, he soon begins to hear the ticking sound in the night, and witnesses his uncle’s strange behavior of wandering around the house before dawn. Besides all those strange affairs, he starts to sense that the house is something different, something he has never seen before. Unpopular at school, he tries hard to gain approval from a popular boy named Tarby by doing something dangerous and forbidden. Now, the whole human race is in danger; will Lewis be the one to save them all?

On surface level, ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ seems to be just another magical eye-candy film where we are plunged into a world of wonder and surprises. True, the interior set of the film could only be given the highest praises. The scenes delight the audiences with its details and colorfulness (the constantly-moving glass painting and many more). If we are only in the cinema for some masterful set and design, it would already have been enough, but the film also offers some witty and solemn contents that keep the film moving.

One of the highlights of ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ is the constant teasing between Florence and Uncle Jonathan; their banter (masterfully done by Black and Blanchett) pulls us into these two characters, and is set as a disguise of their loss and pain. However, the same compliment cannot be paid to Vaccaro, who plays the grieving nephew of Jonathan. Though the plot compels us to feel sympathetic toward this young boy, some of Vaccaro’s performances can only be said to be forced and lacking a proper response from audiences.

But other than the wonder and banter that make audiences laugh more than once, the film also slips in some much-needed seriou topics or plot points that keep it grounded. Out of the villain of the film we find a man who has gone astray because of the violence he’s seen in the war, and out of Florence, we find a broken-hearted woman who has lost everything in the war. Blanchett’s Florence is witty, loyal, loving and above all, a strong woman who has the power to save the day.

‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ is sure to delight audiences young and old who love a tint of magic in life, and for people who care little of magic, they should go for the two leading actors’ masterful performances and the set of the house that already howls Halloween.