Nutshell: A boy finds out that he’s got magic in his family. Sound familiar? Well, while the Harry Potter franchise is an epic story, Clock is a wee tale. Director Eli Roth keeps things fast and fun, with a cast ready to play and art direction that dazzles. Grade: B-
Story: 9-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) goes to life with his eccentric uncle Johnathan (Jack Black) after Lewis’ parents die in an accident. But while Johnathan’s house feels like Willy Wonka by way of the Addams Family, there’s a darker secret hidden…in the walls…
Genre I’d put it in: Halloween Fun For The Young’uns
Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the novel of the same name by John Bellairs.
Gotta say: Man, I love it when Cate Blanchette goes genre. And as good witch/next-door-neighbor Florence Zimmerman, she’s in beautiful form. Her deadpan is epic, and in Clock she’s a perfect Abbot to Jack Black’s Costello. The interaction between these two actors is the main reason for adults to give Clock a look. Because let’s face it; while this film is absolutely stunning in regards to set design, art direction and cinematography? It’s not exactly riveting adult fare.
However, the kids will eat this up. From puking pumpkins to topiary that poops fallen leaves and an armchair that acts like a dog, there’s plenty for little ones to love. Maybe not very little ones, as there are scenes where things can get spooky for the young and uninitiated.
Case in point? Kyle MacLachlan as Big Bad (and formerly the titular house’s owner) Isaac Izard. Izard died a year before the story starts, but let’s just say that there’s no keeping an old corpse down. You know where I’m going with this. Yeah, there’s amazing FX makeup that turns MacLachlan into a revenant, and kids who scare easy could turn this into nightmare fuel. But for folks up for some spooky fun, Izard is a hoot, and MacLachlan is obviously having a good time being bad.
Screenwriter Eric Kripke brings his Supernatural talents to the screenplay, complete with the complex characters I’ve come to expect from him. Izard’s backstory is a heart-tugging one that left me understanding the why of his plan, though I didn’t agree with the how. And I’d lay money on the idea that Zimmerman’s history is what drew Blanchett to this role. Both these characters suffer from PTSD from the effect WWII had on them – the film is set in 1955, so those wounds are still fresh – and Kripke juggles their pathos and the overall humor of the story expertly.
So why not an A grade? Well, the story is a bit too…juvenile for my tastes. Plus, the overall plot is confusing at times; Lewis is an outcast when he first starts his new school, but then makes a friend, only to have that friend become a bigger bully than Lewis had ever encountered. The why of it is shrugged off way too easily, and it feels like 11 hour character shift for sake of getting the story going. And that D Minor chord at the start of the film made me thing I was gonna start watching Phantom of the Opera (or that the composer was going to lift the riff straight from Webber). On the whole the story is too slapdash, and many of the gags are ones only elementary school kids would love. I will be having nightmares for the rest of my life thanks to one where Black is a baby – with his full-sized adult head – crawling around buck naked. No. Just…no. I do want a pet armchair though. That seems absolutely wonderful.
So if the kids are clamoring for something fun and seasonal, go take ’em to see Clock. Adult who are looking for something to dig into may not find it here, though if you’re looking for gorgeous visuals? You’ll find a whole lot to love.
#Protip: If you haven’t read the book yet, get on that. Illustrations by the incredible Edard Gorey! ‘Nuff said.