This was one of those titles I missed because, to be perfectly frank, I got a touch lazy. But in my defense, I was just coming back the week of its release from a three-week trip to the UK. I did, however, promise myself that it would make it into my reviews some time down the line because it seemed like something up my alley as far as it being a fun, dark, family flick as well as something I've been told makes a pretty good Halloween movie (which we probably know by now I'm a sucker for)
Upon finally viewing it, I got pretty much what I expected from it, although I might say it got a bit darker than I thought it might. Take a movie like 'Goosebumps', make it touch scarier, and this is pretty much what you get. For some, this movie will be a fun, albeit creepy family flick they enjoy every October for the spooky season. However, for others, I can just as easily see it being somewhat dismissible as, admittedly, there are several better films of its type out there. Once again, this is something I think is kind of just "fine". It didn't suck, but there wasn't much about it that truly stood out either.
Taking place in 1955, New Zebedee, Michigan, our story involves 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) who moves in with his Uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) after his parents were killed in a car crash. The house is less than inviting to the fearful Lewis to begin with, but on his first night he hears a mysterious ticking coming from the walls. This leads to him finding out, perhaps the hard way, that his Uncle and a neighbor named Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) are respectively a warlock and a witch.
Meanwhile, at school, Lewis lives a live of overall unpopularity as the new kid in town. He makes a friend named Tarby Corrigan (Sunny Suljic), who's running for class president. Upon his win, he then abandons Lewis like a jerk. However, Lewis convinces Jonathan to teach him magic, which he intends to use to impress Tarby and regain his friendship. This unfortunately leads to magic-gone-wrong, with the resurrection of a sinister warlock and former friend named Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan). The man had a personal vendetta against Jonathan before his passing, which is a whole backstory explanation, but the clock in the walls is seemingly meant to drive Jonathan mad and now Jonathan wants to find the clock and figure out its purpose.
I'd say for the most part this is a movie that gives us the old 'Spider-Man' chestnut of "with great power comes great responsibility". It certainly borrows from a few different things to create its magical world within the house (I still haven't mentioned the enchanted furniture). If I had to describe it, I'd say it's something along the lines of 'Harry Potter' meets 'Goosebumps' with perhaps a dose of 'Casper'. All in all, I enjoyed it for what it was, but I can't deny that there was an awful lot of familiarity to it. I'd aim it towards an audience of preteens, where it's family friendly, but just dark enough to have some real atmosphere to it.
By far, the most interesting factor to me is the fact that this came from, director Eli Roth (one who may be considered the king of "torture porn" with his 'Hostel' movies) and writer Eric Kripke (known for the dark and suggestive superhero comedy, 'The Boys'). One might see shades of them through some of the darker parts of this, but I'm not sure it's quite dark enough to be considered "scary" for kids. Heck, it may even be a decent toe-dip into darker material for kids. It's definitely darker than 'Goosebumps', but much lighter than something like 'The Haunting'. I find the humor kind of falls flat sometimes, but again, for a younger audience, this could still be a lot of fun.