The house with a clock in its walls reviews

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Photo lớn courtesy of Universal Pictures
Film is an expressive medium — at least as flexible as books are, in terms of the potential for variety và nuance. So how to lớn explain the way cinema processes so many diverse, nuanced books into generic, nearly identical hunks of cookie-cutter product? And the problem seems particularly pronounced with books aimed at younger readers. When novels as tonally and creatively wide-ranging as Bridge lớn Terabithia, The Dark is Rising, the first five Spiderwiông chồng Chronicles novels, và Cirque du Freak all enter the screen-adaptation machine và come out looking và feeling nearly identical, it’s clear that the problem isn’t with the source material, it’s with filmmakers who are suffering a lack of imagination.

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Or maybe it’s just a lachồng of freedom khổng lồ express that imagination. There’s a clear studio expectation that all children’s movies should be loud, garish, and impatient, with a lot of action and a few big, bold scares. And the predictability và artificiality of that Mã Sản Phẩm is killing the chance for children to experience more than one kind of onscreen story.

The lathử nghiệm children’s classic khổng lồ hit the cinematic meat-grinder is John Bellairs’ 1973 novel The House With a Cloông xã in Its Walls. The book is a charmingly quaint, deeply eerie supernatural mystery about grief, necromancy, and the apocalypse. The movie version is a shrieking CGI carnival full of poop jokes and barfing pumpkins. Handled properly, the material would look more like The Haunting than lượt thích Home Alone. But the filmmaking team seems to lớn have tried their best lớn iron the quirks and scares out of the book, replacing them with big comedy-horror action beats & a topiary griffin that shits mulch in all directions.


That’s particularly surprising given that the director is Eli Roth, who revamped the horror genre with 2005’s Hostel, which helped usher in a wave sầu of cheap torture-porn movies focusing closely on how slowly và excruciatingly the human toàn thân could be taken apart. It’s easy lớn forget that Roth made animated children’s shorts before he made horror films, but his history comes back inlớn focus during House With a Cloông xã in its Walls, a PG movie made for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment, & made with a high-energy, low-impact sensibility that’s more Robert Zemeckis than classic horror.

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Owen Vaccaro stars as Lewis Barnavelt, a 10-year old whose parents recently died in a oto accident. It’s 1955, an era mostly expressed through boaty-looking cars and vintage hairstyles, and as a nerdy, weedy kid who wears steampunk goggles everywhere, Lewis stands out at school and on the playground even more than he would in 2018. As the film opens, he’s being shipped cross-country lớn live sầu with his uncle Jonathan (Jachồng Black), a proud eccentric who wears embroidered kimonos, plays saxophone at 3am, và is incidentally a warloông chồng. His house is full of Pee-wee’s Playhouse accoutrements: an animated chair that rolls around accosting people lượt thích a friendly dog, a stained-glass window that periodically moves & changes, và that unfortunate back-yard griffin, which has no upsides khổng lồ offphối its habit of explosively spraying people’s faces with leaf-poop every time the film needs a cheap laugh.

And there are a lot of cheap laughs in this version of the story, even though the main story is about an evil wizard (Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan) who died in Jonathan’s house while performing a ghastly ritual, và somehow left behind a monstrous magical clochồng that’s slowly counting down khổng lồ some kind of unknown catastrophe. Jonathan and his neighbor và BFF Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) are obsessed with finding & destroying the clochồng, but they briefly try lớn keep the danger from Lewis, who’s more interested in trying lớn make friends at his new school. Briefly, he connects with a popular, scrappy little joông xã named Tarby (Sunny Suljic), whose broken arm is keeping hlặng off the sports field. But Lewis’ desperation lớn be liked pushes hyên ổn toward a terrible decision with literally world-threatening consequences.

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Image: Universal Pictures This version of the story has its upsides. Cate Blanchett is appealingly brisk và no-nonsense as Mrs. Zimmerman, & her bantering, snippy, utterly platonic relationship with Jonathan Barnavelt is a rare thing in cinema, in kids’ films và adult movies alike. There’s something khổng lồ be said for a world where adult men và women can be friends và even competitors without a hint of romantic tension or discomfort. Their casual name-calling & friendly disdain for each other feels a lot like a relationship between pre-adolescent kids, & it’s the most authentic thing in the movie.

And the script certainly has its heart in the right place. There’s a dimly realized but still welcome message here about how people are happiest and best-suited for taking on the world when they’ve sầu embraced their own weirdness and found their own talents, instead of trying lớn change themselves to lớn emulate other people.

But the execution is all yelling and chaos, with Blaông chồng playing nearly every emotion with a fixed cheery grimace, và slathered-on CGI critters standing in for worldbuilding. Even when the film pulls off an authentically creepy image or potential emotional moment, Nathan Barr’s garish score shoves the audience away from it, và back inlớn the feel of a highly caffeinated circus. The House With a Cloông chồng in Its Walls feels a great deal lượt thích the early Chris Columbus Harry Potter films, with their forced whimsy và upbeat, frantic pacing. Nothing about those early films had much sense of weight or impact — they just felt lượt thích a maniacal race to lớn get deeper into lớn the story.

But the Harry Potter films eventually matured khổng lồ take on a slower pace, a deeper interest in character, and a better realized world. Kids’ cinema in general could st& lớn bởi the same — or at least khổng lồ offer some variety. Children’s literature is aimed at a wide variety of tastes & interests. There’s no reason children’s movies can’t be as well.