There is something whimsical and adventurous that makes you believe in magic and all things only the imagination can dream of with the splendorous The House with a Clock in Its Walls (THWACIIW). While it’s hard not to compare elements of it to other boy wizard films of the last decade, where THWACIIW differs is that it doesn’t get too heavy and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s fun and fanciful and with 11 other books written following the young boy Lewis Barnavelt, it’s sure to be a fun journey.
It’s 1953 and sadly 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt’s (Owen Vaccaro) parents have died in a tragic accident and he’s sent to live with his uncle, Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black). Lewis very quickly comes to realise this house and his uncle aren’t what they seem. Told by his classmates that his uncle is an axe murderer, Lewis attempts to run away when he finally figures out the truth.
Jonathan is a Warlock and his next-door neighbour and friend Mrs Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a Witch. She has come to help him discover what it is that’s hiding within the walls of his house. But what they discover is some very dark magic that will require as much help as they can get.
Thankfully Jonathan has been teaching Lewis how to become a Warlock. While he has a lot to learn, Lewis manages to put his highly intuitive and advanced skills to practice. In a desperate attempt to make friends Lewis uses his skills for evil until he realises his ways and fixes his wrongs.
THWACIIW is the classic tale of outcast boy learns magic skills, boy struggles between good and evil and boy defeats dark wizard. THWACIIW is a little simpler in its approach and uses comedy to navigate its way through what would otherwise come across as dramatic scenes. For the most part the film is about acceptance and finding family and relationships in people and places you otherwise wouldn’t expect them.
While the storyline is rather dark and a popular theme across many genres of late, wiping out all or part of mankind to start a more pure and prosperous world, it provides a strong basis for the plot. However, such a dark and possibly hard to digest concept for the younger audiences, it almost feels as if THWACIIW isn’t quite sure of itself nor where it wants to sit in regard to the specific audience it wants to entertain.
As dark as it is, THWACIIW does manage to bring some comedic value as you would come to expect from the talented Jack Black (Tropic Thunder, Kung Fu Panda, Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle). Black manages to deliver some humour as Jonathan Barnavelt, but he also gives the film a light-hearted feel with some of his looks. It ends up being a welcomed balance between what is a dark and almost depressing theme and some light-hearted and humorous fun. There are parts where Black does manage to delve into some more dramatic acting, but for the most part keeps it upbeat. There seems to be a great deal more to the backstory of Jonathan Barnavelt that will no doubt come to surface in subsequent films.
At the heart of the story is Lewis Barnavelt’s played by Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home, Mother’s Day, Fun Mum Dinner). Vaccaro manages to capture this bizarre, knowledgeable, gullible and highly quirky young boy perfectly. There’s a lot going on with this character, his parents have died, he has no friends, his uncle is a warlock and he’s now having to defeat some dark magic. To most people, you could create an entire film just from one of those issues, but he manages to tackle each one with a good understanding how each connects to the other to follow his characters arc. At times Vaccaro does seem a little stiff in his performance but manages to pull it back when the scenes call for it.
Thirdly there’s Cate Blanchett as Mrs Zimmerman. It’s the same old over pronouncing theatrical voice that’s come to be expected from Blanchett and her performances. But take that away and it’s good to finally see Blanchett simplify her performance. It’s not over the top and it’s not a fully developed and overthought character which her performances can sometimes feel like. She offers this really simple character that is easy to understand and know what it is she is trying to do. Perfect for this type of film where children might not understand her many years of backstory Blanchett usually tries to squeeze into every scene.
Overall THWACIIW is really fun if you try not to think about the basis of the story as it’s really quite dark. It’s a bizarre casting choice to put Blanchett and Black together, yet their on-screen chemistry works because of it. Coming from a series of children’s books it’s sometimes tricky in what is included in the initial film. It does manage to capture everything all in one hit and not leave it entirely open for any possible sequels. However, this is a series where sequels will be welcomed to journey into the lives of the Barnavelts and Mrs Zimmerman.
Reciew by Jay Cook
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