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Movie review: The House with the clock in it's walls

Movie review: The House with the clock in it's walls

Movie review: The House with the clock in it's walls

29 September 2018

Owen Vaccaro takes the lead role as Lewis in The House with a Clock in it's Walls.

By Mark Hadley

Amblin entertainment has brought together Cate Blanchett and Jack Black to breathe cinematic life into the best-selling novel by John Bellairs.

But The House With The Clock In Its Walls is ticking off concepts that should have every parent concerned. Set in the 1950s, the story centres on Lewis, a bookish boy played by Owen Vaccaro.

Lewis has recently lost both of his parents in an accident and goes to live with his uncle Jonathan (Black) in a rickety house that’s supposed to be haunted. As it turns out, Jonathan is a warlock and the house is a magical relic animated by arcane powers. The boy also meets Mrs Zimmerman (Blanchett), who is herself a powerful white witch.

Both are consumed with finding a clock hidden somewhere in the house by its previous owner. That evil sorcerer’s “Doomsday” device is ticking down to humanity’s annihilation – unless Lewis and his friends can find it first!

The producers have pitched it as a family movie, but here’s four key ideas from the film you’ll want to consider more carefully:

1. Good is up for grabs.

Lewis asks his uncle, “Are you a good warlock, or a bad warlock?” His uncle replies, “That depends on what you mean by good ...”

It’s a reasonable question, but one which Uncle Jonathan bats aside with a discussion about how good he is. The movie avoids any consideration of whether or not there is anything inherently wrong with the activities we choose, and instead focuses on what we choose to do with them. According to that logic, it’s okay to be a sadist, so long as you’re a good sadist.

2. You can’t help what you like.

Uncle Jonathan tells his nephew why his family never heard from him. “My father didn’t really like magic,” he says, “and he certainly didn’t like me messing around with it.”

Let’s consider what this says about a parent’s responsibility. Uncle Jonathan assures Lewis that he wasn’t born a warlock; he chose this direction, despite his father’s opposition. Does that mean that right-thinking parents will support a child’s interests no matter where they turn?

3. Parents are naturally terrified.

Uncle Jonathan’s problems dealing with Lewis stem from his fear that he doesn’t know how to raise a child.

However, Mrs Zimmerman rebukes his “cowardice” with a startling declaration: “Having a child means being scared for them 24-7, and doing it anyway! That’s the whole job description!” She suggests that not knowing what to do is the natural state of every parent, and he should reconcile himself to fear.

But is that really true? Parents are often gripped with their own inadequacy, but that isn’t the same as saying they’re fearfully ignorant. Christians, for one, have quite clear instructions on how to parent, and the Bible promises peace for those who trust its wisdom.

4. Judgment day is under your control.

The film’s plot races towards a climax identified by a particular Greek symbol. “The omega!” Uncle Jonathan exclaims. “In early Christianity it represents Judgment Day!”

But of course “judgment” is neatly averted with just the right amount of luck and Lewis’ determination to be, “Indomitable!” But do we really want children to see judgment is an outdated bogeyman that heroes can upend?

And doesn’t our very concept of justice rely on the idea that evil will be judged? Much better to assure them that Judgment Day is something we can actually look forward to: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Watch the 60 Second Verdict on The House With The Clock In Its Walls.


  1. I was raised in a VERY strict household in which this movie would not have been permitted simply because of the magic. I have many of the values instilled by that household, but felt that this commentary on The House With a Clock in its Walls was unfair. If you don't want to explain things to your children, you shouldn't have them. When you introduce them to new content of ANY kind, they will need certain things explained to them.

    In response to your points:
    1. Uncle Jonathan NEVER implies that "Good is up for grabs". He states plainly that there is a difference between being skilled at something and using it for good. He is very adamant about how certain things are not to be meddled with. In his own words: "This is pretty much the only thing I'm serious about..."

    2. It is never implied that "You can't help what you like". The closest thing to that is the message that you should follow your heart and use your brain. Don't blindly follow orders, don't let anyone make you feel inferior because you're different, don't cause harm to others. These are Christian values to the core. Christians are often painted as weird or undesirable company. It's important to teach your kids that people who shun you are not better or worse than you and they're not necessarily bad people... They just don't get you.

    3. Parents are ALL terrified initially. Even with the Bible as a guide, there are so many variables. Each child is its own mystery, with their very own set of likes, dislikes, fears, strengths, weaknesses, etc. There are still dangerous people out there who move like wolves among the sheep, and the Bible doesn't tell you what to do if someone kidnaps your child from a place you thought was safe, or if a family friend hurts them. Fear is part of life, and it takes a bigger role when you have kids. If it doesn't, you are truly a sheep and your family is a prime target for psychos. Fear is a survival instinct.

    4. It's not about being able to stop Armageddon. It's about being brave enough to take a stand against evil, even when the odds are against you. It's about not giving up just because someone told you that evil is inevitable.

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