Opening September 20, 2018
Directed by: Eli Roth
Writing credits: Eric Kripke
Principal actors: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro
Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) is a 10-year-old orphan who moves in with his eccentric uncle Jonathan (Jack Black) into his spooky clapboard mansion in New Zebedee, Michigan. From the beginning Jonathan and his neighbor Mrs. Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) are pleasantly unconventional but really quite mysterious. Why does the house have so many weird clocks, and who haunts the house at night? How fortunate that Lewis has a real talent for code-cracking and midnight sleuthing.
The film was based on the novel by John Bellairs, and it works quite well as a Halloween film for a younger crowd. There is the creepy house with cozy fireplaces and creaky floors, a friendly living armchair, dozens of pumpkins on the front steps that come to life in an orgy of orange stickiness. Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmermann hurl friendly insults at each other in a brilliant, fast-paced tempo that makes all of their scenes enjoyable.
Lewis seems a little lost in all of this magical swirl. He wanders through the halls of his school and through the house in a permanent fog, the dazed look accentuated by his aviator’s goggles. His discoveries and mishaps all seem equally unmotivated. In the long stretch there is no awe and wonderment to be found in seeing through the eyes of this character. What a shame that this film stays on the level of gothic cartoon, it could have been more. (Ann G-T.)