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The House with a Clock in its Walls

At first glance Eli Roth would seem an unlikely candidate to direct ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’. Notorious for directing such grisly horror movies such as the ‘Hostel’ films and ‘Cabin Fever’, to find him helming a children’s fantasy movie seems bizarre. To his credit, Roth infuses a genuine creepy foreboding into the fantastical flick based on the John Bellairs novel. With a solid cast and wondrous CGI, Roth successfully sheds his ‘horror hound’ persona for an all-ages extravaganza.

In the early 1950’s, ten year old Lewis (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his Uncle Johnathan (Jack Black). Moving into Jonathan’s sprawling house, Lewis discovers a myriad of secrets. One of them is the fact that Johnathan is a Warlock who lives next door to witch Florence (Cate Blanchett). Together the trio face evil sorcerers Selena (Renee Elise Goldsberry) and her husband Isaac (Kyle McLachlan). With connections to the mysterious old house, the wicked duo runs amuck whilst the intrepid trio protect their neighbours from spectral villainy.

‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ is a diverting fantasy hitting most of its targets. Graced with fine performers who perfectly pitch their roles, especially talented young actor Vaccaro, it is easy becoming engaged in the mayhem. There’s barely a duff performance with the cast directed well by Roth. Given his horror history, Roth knows how to ratchet up the tension whilst moving the story along. He also reveals a softer side in telling a more family-friendly tale without selling out his technical skills.

Like any good movie, ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ works on several levels. Drama, humour, pathos and horror are mixed into a screenplay fully fleshing out its characters. Although occasional moments of padding are evident, it generally holds attention for most of its length. The spectacular CGI successfully enables the house itself to ‘come alive’ and play its own important role.

Discarding his hellish reputation, Eli Roth delivers a fine counterpart to his established directorial persona. A fun and quite creepy tale, ‘The House with a Clock in its Walls’ is reminiscent of something Tim Burton may have done. More films like this in Roth’s cinematic catalogue would be welcome for a spooky but enjoyable time at the cinema where eyes don’t have to remain closed.

Rating out of 10: 7

Searching

To search for something is to look for knowledge. How we search for things has changed over the centuries. From ancient texts, microfilm and other forms of technology, the art of obtaining information has transcended all sorts of advances. ‘Searching’ explores how the digital age creates its own fact gathering and obstacles. A missing person thriller in the style of the ‘Without a Trace’ TV series, ‘Searching’ underscores how our determination to uncover clues can yield all sorts of different answers.

When his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) goes missing, widower David (John Cho), is hopeful that the ensuing police investigation will track her down. Tasked with finding Margot is Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing). When even her sturdy skills fail to uncover new information, David takes matters into his own hands. Breaking into his daughter’s laptop computer, he aims to follow her digital footprints which he hopes will lead to her safe return.

First time director Aneesh Chaganty shows great promise with ‘Searching’. Successfully developing characters and teasing out the tension as any seasoned director, Chaganty knows how to generate atmosphere. Hopefulness, despair and vengeance are emotions David experiences in his often frustrating hunt. Cho’s performance effectively captures his character’s determination. His acting range never skims the surface of over the top hysterics with Messing proving a fine co-lead.

As with any good mystery, ‘Searching’ slowly unfurls clues for viewers to decipher leading to genuinely unexpected twists. It’s terrifying how much of today’s world is reliant on computers and also how much personal information people store on them. The sadness in how many seem to live their lives via a computer screen is keenly felt as does the nature of false friendships and ‘fake news’. These elements are interwoven with skill in a tightly written script co-written by Chaganty who doesn’t waste a second of a lean run-time.

‘Searching’ is a solid thriller for the ‘digital age’ and mystery lovers. Clues are there to be deciphered as with any good thriller which ‘Searching’ does a reasonable job in presenting. Although computers are a marvel, pressing the ‘off’ button can still be the best way to engage with life as well as searching for answers away from rectangular machines.

Rating out of 10: 7