Within a few weeks, two films with Jack Black in the lead role will be released that deal with a world far away from ours – also in THE HOUSE OF MYSTERIOUS WATCHES things are mystical. To what extent this is good or bad, we reveal in our review.
The Plot Summary
The year is 1955: The secretive bookworm Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) has recently been orphaned and travels to New Zebedee, Michigan. His cheerful, eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black), with whom he has not had any contact so far, but who would love to take him in, is waiting for him there. Jonathan lives in a gothic mansion full of peculiarities: there are Halloween pumpkins in front of the entrance, even though it’s not the end of October, there are dozens, oh, hundreds of ticking clocks hanging on the walls in the house and there is, shock abatement, no television! Instead, neighbor Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) hangs around the property day in and day out, a high-minded, stern-looking woman with a dry, quick-witted sense of humor and great sympathy for Lewis, who initially finds it very difficult to settle into his new home. But then Uncle Jonathan reveals to him that he is a warlock and that anyone can be one too if they learn enough…
Movie explanation of the ending
A shy, strange outsider is at the center of the action. Around him: Weird supporting characters who are brought to life by capable actors – here, among others, Jack Black and Cate Blanchett. All of this immersed in a playful, grim aesthetic full of morbid or gruesome details. And unlike “The Island of Special Children,” this time there is no narrative ballast in the form of excessive explanations or listlessly staged, overlong fight scenes in the final act. In short: “The House of Mysterious Clocks” is the best Tim Burton film since the bloody musical “Sweeney Todd: The Devilish Barber of Fleet Street”. Or not. Because “The House of Mysterious Clocks” is not by Tim Burton. Instead, it was directed by “Mr. ‘Hostel’,” Quentin Tarantino’s pal Eli Roth. The filmmaker, known for his rough, bloody films, uses this story, based on a young adult novel from the early 1970s, as a springboard to demonstrate his skills when it comes to atmosphere. The set design, especially in the house of the title, is full of Burtonesque details, cameraman Rogier Stoffers illuminates the action in a brownish-poison-green-grayish shimmer and when setting up the scene, Roth pays careful attention to the overall impression: he puts his characters in the middle of the massive set and Depending on their personality, they can walk along there in amazement, amazement, confidence or pride, while they are discussing problems, creating problems or practicing magic.
Florence (Cate Blanchett) and Jonathan (Jack Black) seem strange…
Screenwriter Eric Kripke (“Supernatural”) takes the oft-told story of a (supposedly) normal mortal who enters the world of magic and tries out to become a sorcerer’s apprentice (“Harry Potter”, “Duel of the Magicians”, “Doctor Strange” and many others), and presents it as mysterious family fun. Strengthened by the impressive set design and Roth’s atmospheric production, which is not so dense that the slapstick gags that appear almost as soon as the gong hits would destroy the mood, Kripke repeatedly draws tension from the actually simple story: “The House of the Mysterious Clocks”. told very efficiently (boy learns magic, boy hears of dangers, is seduced by dangers, has to prevent evil; no further flourishes) and consciously leaves narrative blank spaces – which the audience can fill with their own theories about what happens next: when Roth, for example, in one If the ‘this-worldly’ school sequences focus on a suspicious-looking classmate of Lewis, or if Kripke takes the narrative focus of Lewis for one or two scenes in order to show Jonathan and Florence bickering, this raises questions about the otherwise compelling story. And what is sometimes ominous foreshadowing turns out to be a so-called red herring, i.e. misleading, at other times – in this way, “The House of Mysterious Clocks” builds up additional tension instead of relying solely on its look and the theme of magic for suspense.
Occasionally even the Eli Roth we already know breaks out of this mixture of Tim Burton style and Amblin Entertainment storytelling. Instead of human entrails, the director (who also allows himself a cameo in a fictional TV series) extensively distributes the innards and “body fluids” of pumpkins, living furniture and animated hedge sculptures on the screen and makes Nazi references with his patented directness -United Kingdom. Because a large part of the evil in the world of “The House of Mysterious Clocks” began there and of course wants to be remedied in the third act according to the brand “Fire must be fought with fire”. Jack Black (“Goose flesh”) and Cate Blanchett (“Cinderella”) balance themselves excellently through this delicate tonal minefield and make exaggerated, but not monotonously sketched mentors. When the two of them repeatedly insult each other in their roles with brittle delight, but always show their mutual respect, it’s still fun even after 90 minutes. And because Black’s hyper-yet-worried nature is complemented by Blanchett’s stern reserve and greater willingness to forgive, “The House of Mysterious Clocks” effortlessly avoids promptly tipping over into kitsch in the obligatory, emotional surrogate family-themed scenes .
Little Lewis (Owen Vacarro) and his uncle become an unbeatable duo.
Meanwhile, the loose cog in the clockwork of this Amblin production is young actor Owen Vaccaro. Although Vaccaro cuts a solid figure in the two heartfelt and silly “Daddy’s Home” films, in “The House of Mysterious Clocks” he gives the impression that he has been overwhelmed by the material. Unlike in the “Daddy’s Home” comedies, in which he functions as a subtly exaggerated linnet, Vaccaro freezes when he has to bring the ‘Amblin version’ of this role type to life. As a flawed outsider who is also supposed to serve as a heroic identification figure, the young actor stalks through his material. Things get particularly bad when the film relies entirely on his performance in character-changing moments: With a running time of just 105 minutes (including the end credits!) ” The House of Mysterious Clocks sometimes contains passages within just one scene that today’s big-budget films would often take around ten minutes or more. Screenwriter Eric Kripke, on the other hand, takes his protagonist, who is established as a scaredy-cat, and turns him into a curious sorcerer’s apprentice in just one scene: As soon as Jonathan pours his nephew pure wine on the subject of magic, the inquisitive nature of the boy, who is shown to be well-read, overcomes his fear. This change in character is entirely appropriate given the film’s general mood, which is reminiscent of the “Goosebumps” books and television series, and its consistently fast-paced narrative style – but Vaccaro fails to sell this change in Lewis’ nature at all. This is repeated in further passages: As long as Lewis remains ‘static’, his acting is acceptable, but as soon as Vaccaro has to show that his role is discovering new sides to himself or to the magic, he tends towards a cramped performance that is just as rigid and rehearsed how fake-screechy it comes across.
As unfortunate as this is, it is easier to cope with in “The House of Mysterious Clocks” than the Amblin models of this film would suggest. In contrast to Amblin productions such as “The Miracle on 8th Street” or “The Goonies,” Eli Roth’s directorial work does not rely heavily on her child character. Although the film takes her seriously throughout and admits to her, in a child-friendly but not self-evident way, mistakes she made out of an emotional impulse, the main character in “The House of Mysterious Clocks” remains only a part of the mechanism. The overall construct is the focus: the fun of Black and Blanchett, Roth’s version of a Burton aesthetic with Amblin logic and the subtle horror atmosphere that overlays the enjoyable, family-friendly, mysterious story. With a less uptight leading actor, the whole thing might be a bit more magical, but that doesn’t change the fact that “The House of Mysterious Clocks” is a must-see movie for everyone who likes their family films a little more pithy or misses the Tim Burton of yesteryear .
Jonathan and Florence see Lewis as a special talent.
Conclusion: If the “Goosebumps” film with Jack Black was too much of a tongue-in-cheek homage for you, or if Tim Burton’s “The Island of the Mysterious Children” offered too much narrative idleness, you’ve come to the right place: Eli Roth presents entry-level horror with “The House of the Mysterious Clocks”. Form of weird, grim family entertainment.
“The House of Mysterious Clocks” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 20th.