After his parents died in an accident, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his eccentric uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black). Jonathan is the black sheep, or swan, of the family due to his devotion to magic. Jonathan’s only real friend is his equally strange neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett).
Lewis is having a hard time adjusting, thanks to him not fitting in with the kids at his new school. He has only made one friend, Tarby (Sunny Suljic). Tarby and Lewis get along until Tarby’s broken arm heals and he goes back to his football friends. In an effort to win back Tarby’s friendship, Lewis offers to show him some of the magic he has learned. Unimpressed by simple parlor tricks, Tarby urges Lewis to try something a little more exciting.
While Lewis is trying to fit in with his classmates, Jonathan and Florence are busy with their own quest. The house Jonathan lives in was previously owned by Isaac Izzard (Kyle MacLachlan), another warlock, and his wife Selena (Renée Elise Goldsberry). Isaac died while attempting some sort of magic spell. Before he died, Isaac placed a clock somewhere within the walls of the house. Not knowing exactly what the clock does, but knowing it is something sinister, Florence and Jonathan have been hunting through every nook and cranny of the house searching for it before the countdown ends. All of humanity could be in their hands.
In last year’s Thor: Ragnarok, Cate Blanchett ushered in destruction as Thor’s sister Hela, dropping a decent share of one-liners along the way. This time, Blanchett is on the other side of the battle, trying to save the world. She has also dialed up the wit, trading biting insults with costar Jack Black. These exchanges are perfectly timed, giving a comedic edge that really enhances the film. Both Blanchett’s Ms. Zimmerman and Black’s Jonathan are mediocre at best in their magic. They know they stand little chance at saving the world, but their determination and protecting Owen Vaccaro’s Lewis drive them forward. Though he doesn’t have many movies under his belt yet, Vaccaro holds his own with the veteran actors.
The story, based on the 1973 novel of the same name by John Bellairs, feels very much like it could fit into the Goosebumps universe. As mentioned above, there are plenty of funny moments, but the movie doesn’t rely solely on that to carry it. It also adds some heart with Lewis being the “odd kid” at school and struggling to find his place. Once he thinks he has it figured out, everything gets turned upside down, leading Lewis to make some questionable choices. This is where the film takes a decidedly dark turn that I wasn’t quite expecting.
The House With a Clock in Its Walls is good family fun. It’s funny without being too ridiculous, even if it does throw in a fair share of bathroom humor. It may be a little dark for younger kids, but my 9-year-old loved it. Catch it in the theater to get an early start on Halloween.