The House with a Clock in its Walls (2018)

Starring: Jack Black, Cate Blanchet, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle McLachlan, Sunny Suljic

Directed by: Eli Roth

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

Have you ever seen the episode of The Simpsons when Homer, Bart and crew decide to write a young adult novel?

I think they may have written The House with a Clock in the Walls. Young boy is orphaned when his parents are killed in an accident; goes to live in a strange and fantastical place where he discovers he can do magic; faces a great danger only he can overcome.

Sound familiar?

But having said that, there's still lots about this splendidly spooky kids' film to enjoy.

Owen Vaccaro as Lewis The Hlouse with a Clock in its Walls

Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is a stubbornly geeky child who wears steampunk goggles in honour of his hero, Captain Midnight, reads dictionaries for fun and doesn't seem to realise this may affect his cred at school. When his parents die, he's sent to live with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black in full-on Dewey Finn irresponsible adult mode) in his creepy Hammer horror house, stuffed full of weird automatons, animated furniture and many, many clocks.

Of course it doesn't take long for a smart kids like Lewis to realise that his uncle and next-door-neighbour, Florence (played by Cate Blanchett as a cross between Professor McGonagall and Mary Poppins, if either were to clothe themselves exclusively in Cadbury's purple) are no ordinary beings. And when Lewis attempts to impress school mean boy Tarby (Sunny Suljic) with some dangerous magic (so much more fun than just losing the goggles and dweeby bow-tie) things go seriously awry.

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett in The House with a Clock in its Walls

I have to say I worried for my eight-year-old niece's sensitive fear levels when the opening credits began to roll and I realised the film was directed by none other than torture-porn poster boy Eli Roth, but in fact the Hostel director brings an unexpectedly whimsical sense of fun to the film, balancing silly slapstick with more macabre moments to create a story that is scary (if you're eight) but also engaging and sweet.

The House with the Clock in the Walls is never going to win any points for originality, but it's nevertheless a fun family frolic that hits the spot perfectly in the run-up to Halloween.

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