Adapted from a 1973 novel of the same name by John Bellairs, "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" is a fantasy film, vaguely on the lines of Harry Potter. It is an all-too-familiar story of an orphan who picks up some magic tricks when he goes to live with his uncle in a house that ticks.
Set in 1955, Lewis (Owen Vaccari) a lonely kid after the sudden death of his parents, travels all the way to New Zebedee, Michigan, to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). His uncle is an eccentric but friendly kimono-wearing, weirdo who takes Lewis to his huge but creepy gothic mansion.
There, Lewis is introduced to his uncle's neighbour and friend, Florence (Cate Blanchett), who seems to be just as eccentric as Jonathan. Soon he realises that the house where he is put up in is no normal house, but a spooky entity-filled with magical creatures and his uncle and his friend are not normal adults but warlocks who are able to conjure up magic with the snap of their fingers.
To impress his friend at school, Lewis is eager to learn the magical family business and Jonathan is happy to oblige him - up to a point. But Jonathan and Florence are also hiding something, the secret of the mysterious ticking that can be heard within the walls of the house.
How Lewis unravels the secret and prevents the world from a catastrophe, forms the crux of the tale.
With a clunky exposition and an overtly atmospheric setting, the film seems on a road too well-travelled by other films. Nevertheless, director Eli Roth balances all of the mayhem in the film admirably, bringing an old school sensibility to the proceedings.
With a fair amount of CGI, he is smart enough to balance it out with the type of practical horror effects that make everything seem genuine. From an anthropomorphic armchair that follows Lewis around like some kind of a lonely old pet to the flatulent topiary griffin that keeps guard over the garden to the menacing looking automatons that spring to life, there are plenty of supernatural supporting players to generate a few decent set-pieces.
There are several scary scenes brimming with black magic and dripping blood. Rogier Stoffers' cinematography is shadowy and effective.
On the performance front, Owen Vaccaro is charming and he delivers earnestly. He is aptly supported by Black and Blanchett. The duo surprise us with their bundled energy. Some of the funniest moments in the film arise when they take pot-shots at each other or when Blanchett puts on a silent, deadpan stare in reaction to something outrageous Black has done.
Overall, the film despite its range of strong and weak moments, keeps you glued to the screen.
(IANS Ratings: 2.5 Stars)