THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS Family Movie Review5 min read

By Trina Boice


A young boy’s parents are killed and so he has to live with his strange uncle, who he learns is a warlock.  Intrigued, he wants to learn magic too, but he’s not quite prepared for what happens next. The house has an inexplicable clock in its walls, left by the evil warlock who lived there before.  Together, the boy, his uncle, and the quirky neighbor from next door have to solve the mystery by using their wits and magic powers before it causes the end of the world as they know it.


It’s part comedy, part fantasy, and part scary Halloween movie.


The House with a Clock in its Walls  is rated PG, but parents and critics alike argue that director Eli Roth has really pushed those boundaries.  He is known for his scary, gory movies, and doesn’t seem to quite have a handle on what’s inappropriate for kids.  Young children could be very frightened by this movie. Parents need to use good judgement on this, as the rating is pretty deceiving.  Even Jack Black’s character utters the words, “So creepy” during a scene. Young children may become frightened by pumpkins this Halloween season.

Things to be aware of:  

Jack Black and Cate Blanchett’s characters are dear friends, yet they constantly call each other names.  Of course, it’s somewhat endearing and intended to conjure up laughter from the audience, but talk to your kids about the difference between playful banter and rude insults that might hurt other people’s feelings.  

There is a handicapped kid with leg braces in a couple of scenes, so there is some brief bullying of him and the main character boy. Profanity is used 3 times.  A topiary griffin poops mulch in the pool and other places. You expect poop jokes when a movie is targeted towards kids, but the tone of this movie makes it seem oddly placed.  Still funny though. A baby boy without a diaper shoots pee.

The boy in the movie uses a lot of big words, which is great fun for a wordsmith, but could be confusing for young kids.  You might need to provide definitions for some of the words for your children. There's a lesson for parents in being more patient and understanding with their children. Cate Blanchett's character says, “Children make mistakes.”  

Although a bit out of place and potentially confusing for children, there is an interesting sequence that shows the painful and long-lasting effects of war on families.  The entire plot of the movie takes some turns and can be confusing for kids.

The cemetery scene is super creepy and scary for little kids, unless you're looking at tombstones to do genealogy!  Necromancy is demonstrated and featured in the second half of the movie.


Friendship is a strong theme in the movie.  Cate Blanchett’s character states, “I’ve found that all we need in this world is a good friend.”  Another message that carries throughout the film is to “be indomitable.” We all have battles to fight and we simply need to be brave and walk through them.  Jack Black’s character references Einstein when he said, “Life is like a bicycle. To stay balanced, you have to keep moving forward.” Good advice.

Another message that the movie tries to hit home is to embrace your weirdness and accept yourself for who you are.  Cate Blanchett’s character explains, “You’re the only YOU in the whole universe.” Society seems to really be picking up on that idea with popular movies like The Greatest Showman and all of the Marvel movies.  

Speaking of Cate Blanchett, she is wonderful in this movie, as always.  Her character bakes a lot of chocolate chip cookies and she announces, “There are very few problems in the world that can’t be helped by a chocolate chip cookie.”  Agreed. When she encourages the boy to not be afraid to be weird or different, she tells him that it’s the nuts in her cookies that make them interesting. The uncle lets the boy eat as many cookies as he wants for dinner, rationalizing that they’re “far more delicious” than regular dinner food.  Still agreed. After seeing the delicious looking cookies several times during the movie, I went home from the theater and baked up a batch myself.


Edward Gorey (perfect last name for a Halloween movie, eh?) did the illustrations for the book, which the movie sets were based on.

I don’t mind nepotism in film.  In this movie, director Eli Roth’s wife, Lorenza Izzo, plays the mother of the main character, Lewis Barnavelt (played by Owen Vaccaro).

If you see this movie in 3D on the IMAX, you’ll be treated to a digital remaster of Michael Jackson’s epic music video to his album feature of Thriller!  Young kids may have never seen it before and might even be frightened by the scary zombies.  I had forgotten how scary it was.  One of these days I'm going to learn that awesome choreography.

I loved the magical backyard starry scene.  I get a kick out of random movie trivia.  For example, when this movie was shipped to theaters, the pseudonym “Kimono” was used.  Ha ha. Jack Black's character wears one in the movie.  Jack Black is perfect in the role of the weird uncle in this movie.  He's one of those actors who makes you laugh just by being on the screen.  So, while this movie gets you in the mood for Halloween, viewer beware.

If Thriller in IMAX 3D got you grooving, we recommend Michael Jackson #1's, a DVD set of the King of Pop's best videos. Take a look and buy here. 

Trina Boice is an author of 23 books and teaches online for BYU-Idaho in the Pathway program.  She received the Young Mother of the Year honor in 2004, an award that completely amuses her 4 sons. She’s a popular international speaker in China and writes movie reviews at You can find her books on Amazon, and at

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