Black, Blanchett star in wickedly clever ‘Clock’
Steven Spielberg’s youth accented films tend to have an outsider seeking acceptance theme humming along with action frontiers accented by a loveable alien, mischievous gremlins, or kids capturing a “monster” with a super 8 movie camera.
The producer/director known for “Indiana Jones,” “Men in Black” and Jurassic dinosaurs had no personal involvement with the period tempered spinetingler, “The House with a Clock in Its Walls;” however, his production company (Amblin) co-produced the Harry Potter stew that heats imaginative morsels from Tim Burton (“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”) , “Goosebumps,” “Fantastic Beasts..” and harsh horror maven Eli Roth (“Hostel,” “Cabin Fever,” “Death Wish,” “Aftermath”).
Young wizard Potter first discovers his “power” at the tender age of 11. For the quirky intricate time piece themed film, 10 year old Lewis (Owen Vaccar) has lost his parents in a 1955 auto crash and travels to New Zebedee, Michigan, to live with Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), a skilled warlock, at a sometimes happy, sometimes eerie haunted house surrounded by Jack O Lanterns, where a chair acts like a house pet, stain glass images sliver, and green shrubbery farts.
Jonathan has a “nothing kisseyface going on” relationship with bewitching Florence (Cate Blanchett) who trades politely skewed insults related to past underachievements.
What begins as a happy, sleight of hand “no rules” chocolate chip cookie existence covers an impending curse cast by the house’s former overseer Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan) who ventured into the dark arts when lost alone on a World War II battlefield.
The aviator goggled Carl represents the dictionary reading 50s “nerd” who’s trying to win the friendship of his class’s best athlete. Carl gradually temps the arrogant bully with sparks of magic before he suckers Carl into a supernatural doorway.
Cobwebs, clock mechanisms, creepy marionettes, blinking candelabras, slimy snakes, and a chubby griffin from production designer Jon Huntman, add creaks and cuckoos to a creatively gore restrained horror comedy in which pumpkin squash subs for director Roth’s more familiar blood red droppings.
In a send up to “A Christmas Story” and the Red Ryder BB gun, Roth has Carl obsessed with a Captain Midnight (old radio and 40s comic aviator hero) and the Cheerio’s decoder kits.
Black has previously excelled at comedy (“School of Rock”) and a wink or eyebrow shift triggers tricks. His style has a resemblance to Orson Wells. Film historians might connect “The House with the Clock in Its Walls” World War II horrors to a dark, stylish, post-war view of small town American innocence, where “The Stranger” has hidden ties to the German extermination of Jews. That film has its share of clocks subbing for the musty magic library found in the dreary Michigan pumpkin surrounded structure.
Visually, the bewitching yet brimstone burning style has a subtle potency that could conjure a few spooky dreams filling in Roth’s subdued ambiguous shadowy depictions that allude to his non-young adult talents.
Tony Rutherford is a film reviewer for HuntingtonNews.net and a member of the Huntington Regional Film Commission.