Pop quiz: Family horror-comedy “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is A) the worst-titled movie of the year, B) a PG-rated flick that is far too frightening for children under 10, C) a surprisingly enjoyable bit of creepy fun featuring a wonderfully cast Jack Black and Cate Blanchett, or D) all of the above.
Your answer is D, and as this indicates, parents should approach “The House” with caution. For the right age group, however, the film will be a delight.
What’s the storyline? After the death of his parents, a young orphan is sent to live with his magical uncle (Black) in a mysterious house. Along with his uncle’s witch neighbor (Blanchett), they must locate a hidden clock with the power to bring about the end of the world.
What’s the rating? “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor, and language. I expect that rating to be the source of some controversy, as I would classify the film as too dark and scary to qualify for a PG. However … it is not quite PG-13, either.
“The House” falls into that shadowy in-between world in which there is simply no ideal rating. This means parents must do their due diligence, and discuss whether it’s appropriate for their kiddos.
What’s the ideal viewing age? I’m not kidding about that 10-and-older edict. My 8-year-old son was iffy about seeing the film after a trailer that promised chomping pumpkins and killer dolls. Ultimately, he did accompany me to the screening, and seemed fine with the film for its first chunk.
As the story got darker, however, his response changed. There were several moments in particular -- one, involving a demon in Germany’s Black Forest, features one of the most disturbing characters I’ve ever seen in a PG-rated film -- that terrified him. We made it through the film, but I regretted bringing him. In a couple years, however, I’m betting he’ll love it.
Will my little one sit through it? The film is 104 minutes, and that’s a bit long for family fare. The final stretch felt too long by at least 10 minutes or so, but those who enjoy scares will have no trouble paying attention. Go light on the Sprites, though.
Is there anything else parents need to consider? It’s worth noting that the director of “The House with a Clock in Its Walls” is Eli Roth, known for, gulp, the “Hostel” series. He does a nice job with this one, and brings a touch of danger to the material. He also had the smarts to cast Black, Blanchett, and "Twin Peaks"' Dale Cooper himself, Kyle MacLachlan.
The actors certainly elevate this material; it’s especially splendid to see the mighty Blanchett having such a good time on-screen. Therefore, I thank you, Eli, but my 8-year-old does not.