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Film Reviews— ‘The House with a Clock in Its Walls,’ ‘The Predator’

Jack Black, Owen Vaccaro and Cate Blanchett in "The House with a Clock in Its Walls."

Posted Friday, September 21, 2018 - 2:03 pm

By Adam Sherman

Since the release of Cabin Fever in 2002, Eli Roth has been intrinsically linked with what many have called “splatter horror” films – 2000’s-era, R-rated horror flicks featuring massive amounts of gore and blood, as well as quite a bit of cash. However, since 2015’s Knock Knock, he has begun to diverge from his crimson roots. Earlier this year, he attempted to resurrect the Death Wish franchise – to little applause (not the least of which being on account of its release coming less than three weeks after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting). Now, he makes his biggest departure from his oeuvre yet, with an adaptation of a 1970’s children’s fantasy novel. The question is, can Roth stick the landing this time with The House with a Clock in Its Walls?

Yes – though less sticking it, and more just getting there.

When his parents are killed in a car crash, Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) moves in with his uncle Jonathan (Jack Black). The first night, he starts hearing a ticking noise in the house, and learns that his uncle hears the same – and that said uncle is a warlock, and their neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett) is a witch. Over the course of the film, the trio must deal with building new friendships, coping with the loss and restoration of family, and the nefarious purpose of their House with a Clock in Its Walls.

The acting is solid overall, the set and art design is great, and the script is solid overall. It is an overall solid film with nothing particularly wrong with it… but also nothing that really stands out aside from the visual effects and the sets.

It is a solid, likable popcorn movie that can one can enjoy killing two hours on with or without kids, but there’s not too much to really commend above all else.

Still, go see this movie now.

6/10

The House with a Clock in Its Walls is distributed by Universal Pictures and moves into theaters on Sept. 21.

Can Hawkins Save The Predator

In 1987, 20th Century Fox unleashed a new kind of alien monster on the big screen to face off with and hunt down Arnold Schwarzenegger – aptly titled Predator. It didn’t do too hot with critics but it was a box office smash hit, and kicked off director John McTiernan’s career (he would follow this film with Die Hard and The Hunt for Red October). The following franchise, however, wasn’t kicked so much as nudged out reluctantly. Unlike previous Schwarzenegger-starring franchise-starters, Arnie didn’t return for Predator 2, which featured Donald Glover and Gary Busey.

This was followed by a near decade-and-a-half of radio silence in theaters, while comics and video games started expanding on the lore of this extraterrestrial hunter – most notably a series of crossover confrontations with the xenomorphs of Alien. This quiet was ended with 2004’s Alien vs. Predator, which was bafflingly cut down to a PG-13 rating, and mediocre reviews, but grossed nearly three times its budget. The 2007 follow-up, Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, was much less well-received in spite of a returning R-rating. As such, a return-to-roots approach was utilized in 2010’s Predators, which focused on a group of criminal, mercenaries, and soldiers dropped in an alien game preserve for sport (and featured more big-name actors like Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne, and future Oscar-winner Mahershala Ali). It fared better critically and financially, but it didn’t leave too much of an impact.

And thus the question must be asked – can Shane Black (director of Iron Man 3 & The Nice Guys; Hawkins in the first Predator) give this franchise the shot in the arm it needs to reach greatness?

Not really, but its still a fun ride.

When Quinn McKenna’s (Boyd Holbrook) hostage rescue is interrupted by a crashing ship and his men are killed by the Predator within, he opts to send some of the crash’s equipment home to his son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay) – who has a form of autism, yet possesses preternatural ability towards languages. He quickly finds himself caught up in a conspiracy between the forces of Will Traeger (Sterling K. Brown) and the Predator itself… and that’s before the crap really hits the fan.

Shane Black has come a long way since acting as both Hawkins and script doctor in the original Predator. The dialogue is crisp, the cast meshes well, and the action works great.

However, whenever the film tries to reach for depth, it usually stumbles.

Most of the characters come across as two-dimensional, and don’t really undergo much growth. In particular, McKenna doesn’t really have much to him outside of being a soldier and loving his son. The movie infers that he and his wife (Yvonne Strahovski) are estranged but we don’t really get a chance to see them connect, or see how his presence affected her and vice-versa (though Holbrook does give him some degree of charisma). Most of McKenna’s compatriots in the fight against the Predators don’t really leave much of an impact either – save Coyle (Keegan-Michael Key) and Baxley (Thomas Jane) who have a good dynamic and would have made for more for more interesting protagonists.

As someone with Asperger’s, I do appreciate the portrayal of Rory as someone not necessarily “suffering” from autism, but simply as someone who has a different perception and analysis capability.

However, it is not the human drama that serves as the film’s main draw, but the Predators themselves. And with them… its a mixed bag. On one hand, the Predators themselves are awesome to see in action and demonstrate why they are some of the deadliest hunters in the galaxy. On the other, whenever the film offers tantalizing glimpses into what the creatures’ society might be like… and never really follows up in detail. After Predators opened the tantalizing possibility of warring factions in their society, this film doesn’t really follow in-depth.

Still, it is what it is, and what it is is a solid, bloody fun, sci-fi action feature that you won’t be too disappointed with.

(However, Shane Black’s lack of transparency with his sexual predator castmate may understandably sour you.)

6.5/10

The Predator is distributed by 20th Century Fox and opened in theaters on Sept.14.

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