Ticked by the Clock


By Cara Young


“There’s a clock in the walls. We don’t know what it does, except… something horrible.”- The House with a Clock in its Walls

Something horrible would only begin to describe the 2018 rendition of  John Bellairs’ fiction novel ‘The House with a clock in its Walls’.  As a whole, the film clearly uses the phrase “based on the novel” in one of it loosest forms what with the extension of background character depth, villain motivation and unnecessary plot twists from the writing team.

Even the tagline, ‘This house knows what makes you tick,’ seems to allude to the blatant cut, copy and paste routine of just enough character names, screen ideas and quirky references for this film to keep the novel’s title that far too many writers and directors are guilty of. The novel’s plot was slow and anticlimactic while the characters came off as dreary, one dimensional and altogether unsatisfying. Yet, it seems the only answer the writing and directing team could come to was submerging their dry turkey sandwich of a plot into a vat of cliched mayonnaise that was then ladled out and plopped on a plate and served with one too many poop jokes.

This made the film feel more like an unpopular Harry Potter fanfiction with the distinct fingerprints of one Eric Kripke, rather than a story with independent ideas and messages for the audience.

“You’ll see, things are quite different here.”- The House with a Clock in its Walls.

The 2018 film features everything from menacing manikins and puking pumpkins and to deals with the devil and plot holes so wide you can drive a semi through them. Because in a universe where grown men go around their house at night listening to the walls with a stethoscope and keys to the heavily locked cabinet containing evil spell books that are conveniently be found in the front drawer of that same cabinet. Why not add a scene with an adult sized head, bear and all, on a babies body.

Director Eli Roth may not be as accessible as some for covering serious scenes with punchlines, but the most emotion rendering character of the film was the sentient green recliner lovingly referred to as “Chair”. Not even the dynamic chemistry and delightfully platonic bickering between Jonathan Barnavelt, played by Jack Black, and Florence Zimmerman, portrayed by Cate Blanchett, could cover the lack of entertainment caliber brought on by the film.

“I can give you the right books, teach you the right spells, but that last 1%, that’s up to you.”– The House with a Clock in its Walls.

I must say that while digesting the books lack of Hollywood action I did hope for a bit of an update walking in. However, those scenes were not all that was glamoured so to speak, one particularly upsetting difference from the book to film transition was Lewis’ weight. The Lewis Barnavelt in the text was a fat little kid who hated to run and had no friends, Owen Vaccaro does not even pass for Hollywoods version of fat and proves to be quite adept at running for his life.  

Where some of these adjustments were necessary to capture and maintain a twenty-first-century audience’s interest, there were several that leave the impression of “What even is this movie?” in one’s mind. I can honestly say that the only thing keeping me in my seat during the last half of the movie was the fact I needed to have actually seen the entire film to ethically review it here and now.

While this film may correlate better with a younger audience this is not something that I can see myself watching again.  

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