Sporting the 1980s Universal Pictures logo followed by the Amblin Entertainment one, The House with a Clock in Its Walls does feel like a Spielberg picture at times. Not one that he would’ve directed, but one that he got executive producer credit on. This is Eli Roth’s homage to that era and he’s working in PG territory, which is two MPAA ratings below his typical bailiwick. Like some eighties titles (think Back to the Future or Night of the Creeps), this is set in the 1950s. It’s a more innocent time for evil spirits to haunt and inanimate objects to become animated and agitated.
Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is a ten-year-old whose parents perished in an accident. He’s sent to live with estranged uncle Jonathan (Jack Black, reveling in his own brand of spirited antics). Jonathan lives in a large and spooky manor adorned with countless ticking clocks. There’s also furniture and paintings that come to life and strange sounds behind the old walls. Florence (Cate Blanchett) is the platonic friend neighbor who spends plenty of time at the clocked crib.
It turns out Lewis’s new caretakers have some supernatural abilities of the warlock and witching variety. They use their abilities for good, but Jonathan’s late magic show partner (Kyle MacLachlan) might have some evil tricks up his sleeve if he’s summoned back to existence. Jonathan’s only rule to Lewis is not to open a dusty book that could do just that. We know the next chapter.
The Spielberg touches are clear. Parental loss and being an adolescent outsider are explored. They’re coupled with the science fiction elements we also anticipate. There’s some solid makeup work and special effects to behold. And like some 80s era flicks (think Gremlins or Poltergeist), there’s some creepy moments sprinkled in. They are not as scary as those aforementioned titles that caused PG-13 to exist. However, Clock has enough of them to make this fun for kids. As for the older folks who grew up on all this stuff (like its director), it’s lovingly made and passably entertaining. It won’t make your 3D nostalgia glasses mist up like Super 8 or Stranger Things might have, but it’s worth the time spent.
*** (out of four)