An unexpectedly family-friendly detour from gore-meister Eli Roth, the spookiest thing about “The House With A Clock In Its Walls” is that there’s a Jack Black-starring “Goosebumps” sequel coming out this year and this isn’t it. Instead, it’s an adaptation of the novel by John Bellairs telling the story of Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who, in 1955, travels to live with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) in Zebedee, Michigan after his parents are killed in a car accident. At first, things boring, if a little odd but Lewis quickly discovers that Uncle Jonathan is a warlock and their next-door neighbour, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a powerful witch and both are racing to discover the terrible secret of the chiming clock, hidden in the walls of the house by evil warlock Isaac Izard (Kyle McLachlan).
The Amblin studio logo at the start of the movie acts as something of a hallmark of quality here and Roth proves surprisingly adept at channelling his inner Spielberg. The screenplay, from “Supernatural” creator Eric Kripke, keeps things light and frothy, moving the story along at a pace that ensures there’s never a dull moment although there’s so much packed in here that you may wish it had slowed down just a touch so you could enjoy all the details. In many ways, it feels like a story which may have been better suited to a longer adaptation, similar to Netflix’s “A Series Of Unfortunate Events” with which the adventures of Lewis Barnavelt share a lot of similarities in tone and execution.
Of course, a streaming TV series may not have been able to attract such a cast so we would have been deprived of Cate Blanchett once again stealing an entire picture out from under her co-stars with a mischievously twinkly-eyed performance. “The House With The Clock In Its Walls” is perfectly serviceable spooky fun and certain to entertain the family but as polished and enjoyable as it all is, it’s hard to shake the feeling that somehow it never quite manages to live up to its potential.