“The House with a Clock in its Walls” is fun but forgettable

The problem with having a six-foot tall poster of an unreleased movie on your wall, is that if the movie stinks, you have to take it down. Luckily, “The House with a Clock in its Walls” was enjoyable enough for me to leave that giant poster up for at least a little while longer.

The film begins with our main character, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro, from the “Daddy’s Home” franchise), taking a bus to New Zebedee, Michigan. Following his parents death via car crash, Lewis reads over a letter from his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), who he’ll now be staying with. Once in New Zebedee, Lewis meets his uncle and his friend, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett). It becomes immediately clear that something in the house is not quite right, though, perhaps it was the hundreds of clocks everywhere that tipped him off.

Eventually, Lewis discovers that Jonathan and Florence are wizards. And the reason for all the clocks? The previous owner of the house, also a wizard, left a clock in the wall that ticks really loudly. The extra clocks are meant to drown it out. The giant clock is counting down to something- to what Florence and Jonathan aren’t sure, but they know it can’t be good.

The film was intriguing because the trailers immediately gave me a similar vibe to the enjoyable 2015 “Goosebumps” film. Both have Jack Black (one of my favorites), both are based off a classic children’s book series and they seemed to share that eerie, yet humorous tone (there’s got to be a word for that). It didn’t break any boundaries and is easy family fun. I was hoping for something similar here.

“House” delivered far more on the scares than expected; directed by Eli Roth, whose trademark is gorefest horror flicks, the extra creepiness should come as no surprise. The horror is established early on when Lewis first walks up to his uncle’s house, which looks like it jumped off the page of a Haunted Mansion concept drawing. When Lewis starts exploring the house at night, the clocks echo eerily off the walls and where once birds chirped, devilish faces jump out at the audience. Later in the film, Lewis travels to a graveyard, and while the jump scares are lighter here, Roth does a great job injecting a harrowing atmosphere. Though the extra scares added to the appeal it seemed on the harsher side of something advertised as fun for all ages.

Some whimsical moments do try to balance the scares. After facing the Haunted Mansion façade and entering the building, Lewis is greeted with a cavernous space filled with all sorts of magnificent odds and ends (and many clocks). This moment was accompanied by the one piece of score that stood out- drawing the audience back to the moment of wonderful discovery when Harry Potter first travels to Diagon Alley. Though the feeling lasted much longer and was much stronger in “Harry Potter”, it was a great moment nonetheless. There are a handful of similar moments throughout the film, such as when Lewis discovers magic or when he gets to walk amongst the stars. These moments help to attain the “Goosebumps” scary-funny zone to moderate success.

My most anticipated part of the film was Jack Black, who shines as he does in his other roles in similar family films. In one scene, Jonathan’s neighbor complains to him about his early morning saxophone sessions. Jonathan responds with, “I’ll try to keep it down around 3 a.m., but thems my best jammin’ hours!” It had me chuckling, visualizing a saxaphone-playing version of his character in “School of Rock.”

Admittedly, the interactions between Black and Blanchett were the best parts of the film. The two friends are generally found providing the humor, bouncing semi-clever insults off each other. They also, however, provided the one scene in the film that hit home emotionally. Both actors smoothly transition from their playful spats to full-on arguments that leave one steamed and one stamped-out.

It never meshes into any sort of masterpiece, but that wasn’t expected. The plot gets needlessly convoluted as the film progresses. There are a few side plots that felt extremely shoe-horned in and the characters as a whole were forgettable. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett never fully shirk their celebrity status to disappear into the roles of Jonathan and Florence. The humor was nice, but I was never overcome with laughter. And the whimsy/scary combo never meshes as it does so well in “Goosebumps.”

In the end, I did like “Goosebumps” better, but still enjoyed this. And if anyone expected this to be a masterpiece, I’d like to know why. “The House with a Clock in its Walls” delivers a satisfactory, if mostly forgettable family experience that can hold folks over until awards season later in the year. And if you love Jack Black like me, “House” might be a little more than that.