Arts & Leisure

“House With A Clock” is right on time

“THE HOUSE with A Clock In Its Walls” stars Jack Black, Cate Blanchett and Owen Vaccaro.

By Jim Tortolano

It’s not easy to strike a balance between horror and comedy. That’s such a fine line that in many cases it tips awkwardly to one direction or another.

Being able to adroitly negotiate that territory is one of the principle pleasures of “The House With A Clock In Its Walls.”

Directed by Eli Roth and written by Eric Kripke, “Clock” has many of the aspects of the Harry Potter stories and – in general – improves on them. It’s about an orphan, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who is sent to live with his eccentric uncle, Jonathan Barnavelt (Jack Black) in the proverbial scary house.

It’s not long before Owen discovers that Uncle Jonathan – and his friend Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) – are more than just, uh, unconventional. What follows is a growing bond among the three, a new vocation for Owen and the slow unfolding of the sinister plot they all end up confronting.

There is a lot to admire here. The “bad guys” have a reason for their nefarious actions, unlike many other similar tales in which the villains are evil simply because they are evil. The longing to be accepted, the peril of phony friends and the pain of loss are all touched upon with eloquence that never becomes maudlin.

The special effects are delicious, and there’s enough genuinely creepy stuff here to satisfy most fans of the scary movie without tumbling into blood porn. A warning here, though: while based on a young adult book, this is not a film for young kids. Some nimrods brought pre-schoolers to the cinema and those munchkins wailed in terror at some of the later scenes.

The lead roles are inhabited expertly, although it’s difficult to watch Jack Black and not see the manic energy he displayed in “School of Rock.”

There’s probably not a series of films, action figures and Halloween costumes coming from “Clock,” but this film is as good or better than any of the later films from the Hogsworth merchandising empire.

“The House With A Clock In Its Walls” is rated PG for magical violence, some scary images and crude humor.

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