Light-hearted fun: Rashid Irani reviews The House With A Clock In Its Walls
The last thing you’d expect of Eli Roth is a family-friendly fantasy. After all, he’s best known for gory frighteners like Hostel and Knock Knock. Happily, then, his adaptation of the 1973 children’s novel by John Bellairs is escapist fare packed with special effects, and quite a few mild scares too.
Set in Michigan, circa 1955, the outlandish story follows a recently orphaned 10-year-old (Owen Vaccaro, exceptionally assured) sent to live with his garrulous uncle (Jack Black). Before you can say ‘magic!’, the new home reveals a secret world of CGI creatures and ceaselessly ticking clocks.
It seems that the mansion’s original owners, a sinister couple (Kyle McLachlan-Renee Elise Goldberry), have cast an evil spell capable of turning back time and annihilating humankind. Not to worry too much; help is at hand in the form of a neighbourhood witch (Cate Blanchett, having a blast) and the uncle, who happens to be quite a skillful wizard.
The script captures the zestful spirit of a young man confident of overcoming any obstacles in his path. The incessant banter between the adults is hit-and-miss, but the period production design by Jon Hutman is spot-on.
The pre-teens it’s aimed at will likely embrace this funhouse romp.