Jack Black's 'horror' gets tick of approval
THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS (PG)
Director: Eli Roth
Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro
Running time: 105 minutes
Verdict: 3.5 stars
Torture porn director Eli Roth’s first foray into PG-rated territory will test the threshold of small or sensitive children. But good fairytales often do.
What’s more surprising about the Hostel franchise creator’s follow up to the moribund Death Wish remake he released in Australia earlier this year is that it’s actually quite interesting.
Without recourse to the grisly over-the-top violence and gratuitous gore that has been his trademark modus operandi up until now, Roth is forced to dig a little deeper. The discipline does him good.
Artfully eccentric performances from Roth’s three lead cast members keep The House With a Clock In Its Walls’ cogs and gears turning.
After a practice run in the horror comedy Goosebumps, Jack Black is now a master of the family-friendly dark arts.
There’s more at stake for his second-rate warlock, Jonathan Barnavelt, in this creepier, more cogent variation on the theme, based on John Bellairs’ 1973 Gothic fantasy.
And Black’s performance is beautifully matched by that of Cate Blanchett as the formidable Florence Zimmerman, a purple witch of extraordinary power and passion.
The pair’s verbal jousting cements their status as old, dear friends.
There is also something genuinely odd about Owen Vaccaro’s characterisation of Barnavelt’s nephew, Lewis, who moves to New Zebedee, Michigan, to live with his black sheep uncle after his parents are killed in a car crash.
In a cinematic world of cutesified misfits, the pint-sized stoic stands apart — even his flying cap and goggles feel more like armour than affectation.
Barnavelt’s ticking house is dangerously intriguing — not just to Lewis.
Roth channels his own inner-10-year-old to summon just the right combination of awe, fear, curiosity, and transgression as the orphan explores his strange new environment.
Lewis’s limited perspective — his guardians protect him from the full extent of the danger — adds to the tension by leaving his flank open to evil forces.
When Kyle MacLachlan’s dark-hearted villain and his shapeshifting paramour (Renee Elise Goldsberry) rise from the grave, Roth keeps the horror just the side of an M rating.
The malevolent dolls and regurgitating pumpkins are nicely attuned to the feverish imagination of a child.
At no point during the film is the audience in doubt that Lewis’ new world — without parents — harbours dangerous secrets. But by the time the credits roll, he has summoned the strength and skills required to survive them.
The House With A Clock in Its Walls is now screening.