DREAMWORKS

After his impressive acting as the notorious Sergeant Donny Donowitz in “Inglourious Basterds,” Eli Roth has returned to cinema as a director for the fantasy movie “The House with a Clock in Its Walls,” based on the 1973 novel by John Bellairs. Despite at times being slow-paced, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” charms viewers with its imagination and humor.

The film begins when the parents of a young boy, Lewis, played by Owen Vaccaro, pass away and he is sent to live with his warlock uncle Jonathan, played by Jack Black, and his uncle’s friend Florence Zimmerman, played by Cate Blanchett. But the crew has little time to spare, as they must find and destroy a clock with the ability to end the world — within Jonathan’s magical house.

The film’s fantastic sense of humor deserves praise. Playful dialogue and witty responses permeate nearly all the scenes, leaving the audience laughing throughout the movie. This sense of lightness and jolliness turns what could have been an overdramatic adventure into an enjoyable and pleasurable fantasy.

Roth and screenwriter Eric Kripke skillfully placed hilarious moments throughout the film to deliver a balance of thrill and amusement. For instance, in one scene, Jonathan is put under a spell, leaving him with the body of a baby and the head of his adult self. This scene left the audience bursting out in laughter, and the humor definitely contributed to making this magical battle more enriching.

Kripke’s creativity shines in the magic performed by the various characters. Through the depiction of Jonathan’s house, viewers experience the innovative variety of sorcery presented in the film.

For example, there is a human-like couch in Jonathan’s house that changes facial expressions depending on how Jonathan is feeling throughout the movie. When audience members see actual magic performed by the trio, they will be amazed not by the magnitude of the wizardry but by how the spells permeate every aspect of the film in original ways.

The film also shows its originality through subtle plot twists. For example, many characters whom the audience initially expects to be of minimal importance, like Jonathan’s neighbor Mrs. Hanchett, played by Colleen Camp, and Lewis’ friend Tarby, played by Sunny Suljic, ultimately play very important roles.

Viewers should pay careful attention not only to Lewis’ magician crew but also to the characters around this trio, as they play critical roles elevating the story’s tension and bringing the plot to its climax.

The movie did, however, fall short in other ways, particularly with respect to its long and tedious climax. Compared to the considerable run time given to showcasing spells and sorcery during the beginning, the film’s middle was filled with mundane explanations and dialogues.

For instance, a significant amount of time is put into explaining the relationship between Jonathan and the main antagonist Isaac, played by Kyle MacLachlan. Yet the lack of magic in these scenes and the additional explanation of the relationship later in the movie leaves viewers wondering why so much time was spent explaining their acquaintance. Combined with other trivial descriptions throughout the movie, the audience seemed bored midway through the film, wondering when the climax would finally start to kick in.

The protagonists’ acting was praiseworthy, as Black and Vaccaro both established a serious tone and evoked happiness at the end of the film. They were able to weave in humor in nearly every scene, which further provided the movie with a sense of lightness. Yet the antagonists Isaac and Selena, played by Renée Elise Goldsberry, lacked the gravity and solemnity needed in fighting the protagonists.

Contrary to the lengthy lead-in to the finale, the plot’s high point was quick, sudden and disappointing. The final battle between Lewis and Isaac lasted only a few minutes and the tension cooled down quickly. As a result, viewers were left to doubt whether the final battle was indeed “final” and wonder about potential fights afterward.

Considering the rather lengthy buildup to this climax, Roth should have put more attention into making a more impressive ending so viewers do not have to question whether what they just saw was the actual finale.

“The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is a well-made and funny fantasy that will leave its audiences moved by its creativity and wit. Nevertheless, the drawn-out progress to the high point, along with a rather abrupt ending, prevents it from being an exemplary movie in its entirety.

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