The House with a Clock in Its Walls

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
The House with a Clock in Its Walls Movie Poster Image
Eli Roth's aged-down spookfest has jump-worthy scenes.
  • PG
  • 2018
  • 104 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 162 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 50 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Promotes teamwork, perseverance, friendship. Encourages people to to rise above what frightens them to face their figurative (and in this case, literal) demons and survive. Mrs. Zimmerman must move past her grief to summon her powers (for good) and for both Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman to trust Lewis and his abilities. Shows that families aren't always mother-father-child units.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Lewis is a brave, disciplined boy who breaks a rule and faces the consequences. He's also kind, clever. Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman are protective of Lewis and summon their talents to help take on the warlock and witch baddies.

Violence

Lots of creepy images/situations, a few of which are downright jump-worthy and frightening. The house looks haunted and features jack-o'-lanterns all year long, scary toys, dolls, furniture that comes to life, lion-shaped bushes that become predatory, a devil cuckoo clock, an ominous ticking sound in the wall, etc. An evil warlock comes back to life and recounts a story (which the audience sees) of war that involves summoning a frightening demon, etc. A witch disguises herself as a beloved person to trick someone. The evil couple has killed people before and plan to destroy the world. The house begins to fight against the good witch and warlock characters. Necromancy/blood/crypt imagery and commentary. A boy hurts Lewis, who falls to his knees; later, Lewis magically has a basketball hit two bullies.

Sex

Married couple shares a reunion kiss.

Language

Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman bicker and trade "friendly" barbs like "old hag," "old yeti," "hag face," "withered purple skeleton," "coward," "deranged," "Q-tip," etc. "Hell," "damn," and "oh my God" are used a few times. Bully calls someone an "ankle biter."

Consumerism

Magic 8-Ball and Russell Stover brands/products seen.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The House with a Clock in Its Walls is based on John Bellairs' same-named 1970s children's book. It marks the first younger-skewing spookfest from Hostel director Eli Roth, who considers this film a "starter horror movie" for families and tweens. But it's definitely a "know your kid" situation: The movie is very creepy, and there are a few scenes that are downright scary/jump-worthy for kids. There are scary toys/dolls, ominous sounds, a demon, witchcraft, necromancy, and the occult, but (spoiler alert!) the "good" witch and warlocks ultimately prevail against the forces of evil that are threatening them and the world. In one scene, a boy hurts kid protagonist Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), but later Lewis magically makes a basketball hit two bullies during a game. "Damn" and "hell" are used a couple of times, and several mild insults are traded by two adult friends (Jack Black and Cate Blanchett). A married couple kisses. Parents who enjoy horror movies will appreciate this introduction to the genre, but families with sensitive kids should think about whether they're up for even a "light" fright flick. Those who do watch will appreciate the movie's messages about teamwork, perseverance, friendship, and facing your fears.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykal26 September 21, 2018

Disturbing

This movie is psychologically disturbing and I can't understand the PG rating. Two of the most disturbing scenes are not even in the book and were unnecess... Continue reading
Adult Written byMamahood September 21, 2018

Terrifying

This was not a kids movie and more than a few key scenes were horrifying . I brought my three children to this movie. I feel like a failed all three children. T... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byJoel_5762 September 15, 2018

The House With a Clock in Its Walls should NOT be PG

The House with a Clock in it’s Walls may be PG but I wouldn’t recommend for young viewers. The things that make this movie good is the humour, chemistry between... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylivipotter September 22, 2018

Unnecessary

Absolutely an unnecessary film to watch. You'll leave the theatre in a more distraught state then when you arrived. You won't gain anything positive n... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN ITS WALLS is based on author John Bellairs' classic children's novel set in 1955 about tween orphan Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro), who's sent to live with his single Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in New Zebedee, Michigan. Soon after arriving at Uncle Jonathan's large, haunted-looking mansion, Lewis discovers that the eccentric Jonathan and his best friend/neighbor, Mrs. Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), are (spoiler alert!) actually a warlock and witch -- and the house is full of magical, creepy occurrences. One of those eerie elements is the titular clock, which is loudly counting down to something designed by the house's former inhabitants. Lewis convinces Jonathan to teach him spells and other magic, and the sessions result in a climactic problem for the trio of magicians.

Is it any good?

Director Eli Roth's first foray into family-friendly movies isn't a masterpiece, but it's just spooky and funny enough to entertain young moviegoers who are new to the horror genre. Black and Blanchett are an amusing pair, trading barbs, bickering, and working together to keep Lewis safe. Given her mostly serious filmography, it's easy to forget that Blanchett has finely honed comedic skills. Unfortunately, the laughs here are sometimes awkwardly timed. But Black, as always, is goofy and hams it up in an affable way for the audience. And Vaccaro, who played the son in both Daddy's Home movies, is believable as a shy, slightly nerdy orphan who's hoping to fit in at a new home and school.

The movie is technically well made, but its story is uneven in parts. It's young-kid friendly one moment and then unsettling the next. And once the villains are revealed, the movie gets downright creepy. A lot starts happening rather quickly in the final act, and a few flashbacks and the big magical battle scenes may frighten kids who are sensitive to scary stuff. Roth still has some wrinkles to iron out if he wants to continue making starter horror films for kids, but this first attempt is serviceable enough to be on rotation for Halloween night and sleepover viewings.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in The House with a Clock in Its Walls. Is it realistic, stylized, or fantastical? What's the impact of media violence on kids?

  • Did you find the movie scary? Why or why not? How much scary stuff can kids handle?

  • Director Eli Roth has said that this movie is a perfect "starter horror movie." Do you agree? What are some other horror movies that make good introductions to the genre?

  • Do you consider anyone in the movie a role model? If so, what character strengths do they display?

  • What era is this movie set in? How can you tell? Consider the wardrobes, dialogue, cars, school backgrounds; is it clear in what decade the story is set?

Movie details

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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For kids who love magic and spooky stuff

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