REVIEW: Sorry, but ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls’ isn’t for kids

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Jonathan Barnavelt is a creepy, middle-aged man who lives in a creepy, haunted mansion. Mannequins walk. Chairs move. Paintings dance. And let’s not forget the lion-shaped shrubbery, which sails around the house at will.

He’s also now the father figure to his nephew, Lewis Barnavelt, whose parents died in an automobile accident and who has been given the unfortunate task of living in this spooky place.

That’s OK, though, because this is a “friendly” haunted house. At least that’s what Jonathan says. He’s a “good” warlock who – along with his platonic friendly witch associate Florence – fights off the evil spirits. Everything will be OK!

But Lewis’ classmates at school aren’t so sure.

“You live in the slaughterhouse,” one classmate says.

Supposedly, the student says, an “old guy” died long go in the house and then cursed it. Lewis doesn’t want to believe the story, but he wonders: Is it true?

The House with a Clock in Its Walls (PG) opens this weekend, telling the story of a mansion that – unknowingly to Uncle Jonathan – houses a doomsday clock that could destroy humanity. It was placed there by an evil warlock named Isaac Izard who indeed did die years ago but could return someday to turn it back on – by using the right spell, of course.

Much like Harry Potter, the film follows a boy (Lewis) who learns magic so that he can fight evil – and so that he can play tricks on his friends at school, too.

The movie stars Jack Black (Nacho Libre, Kung Fu Panda) as Uncle Jonathan, Cate Blanchett (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) as Florence, and Owen Vaccaro (Daddy’s Home) as Lewis.

Much like Harry Potter, the film follows a boy (Lewis) who learns magic so that he can fight evil – and so that he can play tricks on his friends at school, too. It is set in 1955 and is based on a book from the 1970s by author John Bellairs.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is aimed at tweens, teens and families and is part of the so-called “kid-friendly” horror genre. Screenwriter and producer Eric Kripke even hopes it will serve as “sort of the gateway” to adult-oriented thrillers/horror films as children grow up.

But despite the filmmakers’ goals, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is far from being kid-friendly. I say this not as a scrooge – I’ve watched and enjoyed the dark comedy A Series of Unfortunate Events with my 10-year-old son – but as a Christian parent who was surprised by the occult imagery, scary scenes and themes in the movie. The House with a Clock in Its Walls features pentagrams, spells that require blood, a book with necromancy magic (communicating with the deceased), and the raising of the dead. And this is all with the supposed good guys. We also see a flashback scene where a man makes a deal with a demon, and a current-day scene with a bad witch magically transforming from one person to another person by twitching her head back and forth in a possessed-like appearance. Then there’s the zombie. He’d give my kids nightmares.

The worldview is one where the good guys get their magic from within and the bad guys pull their power from Hell.

It contains no sexuality and mild language. Perhaps it’s possible for parents to use the movie as a doorway in discussing biblical themes: the battle of good and evil and the reality of a supernatural world (where an all-powerful God — unlike in the movie — rules). But those conversations likely will be taking place at 1 o’clock in the morning … when the children can’t sleep. You’ve been warned.

This one is rated PG. It deserves a PG-13.

Entertainment rating: 2 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language.

About the Author
Michael Foust is the husband of an amazing wife named Julie and the father of four young children. He has covered the intersection of faith and entertainment for more than a decade. Visit his blog, MichaelFoust.com

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