'The House With A Clock In Its Walls' Proves Eli Roth's Talent Goes Beyond Horror
The detour into the family estate proved to the world that Elros was not just a one-trick pony.
Famed horror filmmaker Eli Roth's career is about to enter unexpected and only partially explored territory. Coming soon is a hybrid genre/video game adaptation of Borderlands, expected to be a sci-fi adventure comedy starring two of his recent collaborators, as well as Jamie Lee Curtis. At first glance, this attempt is a far cry from the raw, horrifying horror of his cult debut Cabin Fever, made while camping out in the North Carolina woods in late 2001. The log cabin in horror has been praised by some for bringing a new level of sleazy to the genre. It certainly works in a combination of claustrophobia and a primal, equally disturbing, non-bipedal foe.
Eli Roth Has Had a Polarizing Career
His subsequent efforts are known to intensify Carnage, but the reception of his later films has become increasingly polarized. The director/actor has a keen eye for good projects — 2011's "The Last Exorcism" and 2019's "The Haunting" (which he produced each time) were efficient, budget-friendly genre films. He has a particular passion for cult films in general, with his reimagining of 1977's cult psychological thriller Game of Death and 2015's Knockout causing a stir As a slow build, but not quite regaining the creativity of his debut. More recently, the director has taken his love of sharks and conservation to the next level with this admirable documentary, out in 2021.
In 2017, Ross took over the house with the clock in the wall - Amblin Entertainment returned to a healthier vibe and a much gentler plot involving a warlock with a beating clock in his old mansion. Based on a beloved 1973 novel by John Bellairs, The Tell-Tale Heart-lite. House is a major change for the director, and proves to be a charming, benign film with broad appeal - one that he can bring to the frame with a visual skill that can be seen in different forms for all. Appreciated at the time, but still arguably underappreciated, the surprising directorial left is a testament to Roth's underlying versatility, and ability to dial back excess when necessary. House is ultimately an often entertaining take on adult fantasy that pays a soulful homage to the past while containing a beautiful message - well worth a re-watch.
The Movie Taps Into 1980s Fantasy Nostalgia
Long before houses were built, people could It's hard to imagine the director directing a family movie, but he does, and the movie soars in the way it lovingly tempers something that would otherwise be terribly scary had it been a different movie. With its lighthearted approach to a series of escalating and amusing events - it's an efficiently executed film that makes for a relaxed, inoffensive watch. Just seeing the distinctive Amblin Entertainment logo pop up before the movie starts kicks up a dusting of old-school Spielbergian nostalgia. Not seen for a while, reminiscent of ET and other true winners from decades past, the unmistakable icon didn't appear again until three years later in West Side Story. Teaming up with comedic flair Jack Black and one of the best actors in the business, Cate Blanchett (who's both reconnected with the Borderlands director), the two actors' presence adds considerable weight to the story.
Shot in rural Georgia, a state far removed from the markedly different claustrophobic frenzy of filming 17 years earlier, it is set in a small Michigan town in the 1950s where young orphan Lewis (Owen Vicaro) arrives in his estranged Uncle Jonathan (Blake) A cluttered abode of contemplation. Props are needed for venue scouting because the atmosphere is perfect. Faced with giant cushions and countless clocks (of various sizes and ages), Ross is able to effectively convey a sense of wonder through some clever set shots, and within the first 10 minutes, the plot of an 80s adventure movie is Loud creation. Now acquainted with Jonathan and his academic, more capable magician best friend Florence (Blanchet), he is forced to contend with a house that is ringing with the ubiquitous ticking and clocks that keep track of time. Mischief ensues when he realizes that his uncle is a warlock of amateur abilities and that the new home he's wandering into contains some sinister history involving more powerful talismanic figures.
The Film's Visuals and Performances Make It a Must-Watch
Ross uses a really interesting visual element here. The house features an ever-changing stained-glass window that shifts frequently to reflect the tone of the moment—a whimsical style that's similar to some in the Harry Potter films directed by David Yates and Alfonso Cuarón. The house itself becomes a character - full of life. Strong attention to technical details involved The various gadgets are in front of the performers, and what works is the presence of Kyle Maclachlan as the admittedly evil (and vindictive after death) warlock Isaac. His presence is reminiscent of grittier material like Blue Velvet or Twin Peaks, a clever casting that will delight viewers who are well versed in old '80s catalogs. It seems like a subtle nod to some of the earlier dark fantasy food.
Blake is good as the self-deprecating Jonathan. Playing a character in a movie isn't too dissimilar in spirit to a character in Goosebumps - he's able to elicit laughs in a natural way, with much of the humor coming from an organic take on the rapidly unfolding plot reaction. His possibly deliberate misphrasing of an old idiom (the family's "black swan") also helps push gently, but never forcefully, some of the film's message - to audiences of all demographics. Blanchett greatly adds to the story and fully embodies the character of Florence. Her glacial wit and penchant for well-timed barbs add a delightful contrast to the absurdity of the surrounding situation. Ross himself makes a brief cameo as a bombastic TV character. it's a surefire sign The director had a lot of fun making this movie.
The Welcome Prevalence of Absurdist Humor and Effective Tempering of Horror
There are plenty of absurd laughs in "House", a further indication of Roth's ability to deliver quirky comedy in flamboyant fashion. An anthropomorphic chair rushing toward a character in need of love is a very strange feeling. A solid job. In another dreamlike scene in the third act, a procession of pumpkins approaches, spouting bright orange saliva. One of the most memorable jack-o'-lantern sequences in recent memory. Delightful in its singularity, here's an outlet for the director's mature talent for displaying haunting imagery in a more family-friendly fashion. Considering the film's stranger additions and successful visual gags, there seems to be a whole mouthful of hitherto untapped creativity already on the table. It sees the director digging into other areas of the repertoire to deliver a different type of experience.
That's not to say the film is entirely bland - to be sure, much of it is lively entertainment, but Ross' horror roots remain on the periphery, if not obvious. The cemetery scene, in which the resurrected Isaac's hand appears to carefully remove the crumbling tombstone, is atmospherically shot and eerie (Just) enough to evoke something. In Crypt Legends, necromancy is handled subtly in this context. Cruel Isaac is also fittingly Mummy-esque. That being said, it's a football field or two away from one of the director's title-winning films, Night of the Living Dead, whose graveyard sequence has a permanent place in the minds of horror fans everywhere. Still, Rose's status as a Romero or Remy protégé cannot be shaken. According to The House with a Clock in its Walls, though, the director can expect to see more throwback fantasy comedies with a tinge of horror, as he proves not only to be a capable and high-quality helmsman, but also a family-oriented entertainment.