There are plenty of funny moments and gags to lighten up this film, including a topiary lion with some bowel issues, but the film features some necromancy (and they even call it that in the film). That’s not quite a pleasant topic, and you probably don’t want to have to explain to your kid what that means exactly. There are some jump-scares that might even catch you off guard. It’s probably not a suitable film for children under 8 years old unless you’d like to sit up with them when they have "The House with a Clock"- related nightmares.
From Alicia Kort at Fatherly.com:
From Carl Wheeler at The Reel Godfather:
If Universal Pictures hopes to see a healthy return on their investment, they better hope that families are caught under the spell of hopeful entertainment and choose to come out in droves to see this. Being that The House with a Clock in Its Walls is rated PG for thematic elements including sorcery, some action, scary images, rude humor and language, it’ll be kind of a ‘tweener’ when it comes to the expected audience. Still though, if they get it right, this could be the beginning of a lucrative franchise. If it bombs, it’ll just go in the ever-growing pile of forgotten family franchises that have failed before even getting a sequel.
The pace of "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" moves decently enough, but there are a few instances that could have been trimmed or completely omitted and I would have been fine with the cinematographic sacrifice. The overall feel of the family fantasy is one of enjoyment and could be labeled as “Horror 101: A Introduction to Scary Movies“. It isn’t the best movie that’s in theaters right now but there’s enough entertainment to go around to satisfy most families. Check it out in theaters now.
From Peter Debruge at Variety:
Yet another in a pipeline of vaguely Harry Potter-esque wish-fulfillment fantasies, Universal’s clunky but not entirely un-charming “The House With a Clock in Its Walls” makes enchantment so easy — and so ubiquitous — as to feel almost ordinary, being the all-too-familiar story of an orphan who picks up some nifty tricks when he goes to live in a house that ticks.
Looking back, Amblin Entertainment — that Steven Spielberg-hatched shingle responsible for such films as “Gremlins” and “The Goonies” — may as well have defined the concept of movie magic for a generation, only to see it watered down by all the computer-generated juvenile thrill rides that followed. The Amblin-produced “House” may as well have been conceived as a throwback to what the label once represented: Like 1985’s darkly hallucinogenic “Young Sherlock Holmes” (whose trippy CG stained-glass sequence was a visual-effects breakthrough for its time), what presents itself as an ominous mystery is in fact a horror movie for kids.
By Chris Nashawaty from Entertainment Weekly:
Adapted from John Bellairs’ 1973 YA mystery fantasia, "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" is like a mash-up of Harry Potter, The Addams Family, and the Goosebumps saga, but busier, noisier, and more exhausting. It’s mostly giddy, ghouly fun — even if you walk away with the impression that it might have made a slightly better Universal Theme Park attraction than a film.
By Jennifer Bisset from CNET:
...it feels like [Roth] watched every single children's fantasy ever made, picked the parts he liked best and plonked them into a boiling cauldron. The end result is, well, a better-than-average Harry Potter wannabe -- which, in the end, might just be enough for kids.
The clocks are many in this household. Lewis starts to notice strange, magical occurrences. A painting of a boat bobs on moving waves. Playing cards change numbers so he wins at poker. The well-worn armchair wasn't in that spot before. Oh, and there's that weird room filled with every freaky doll you can think of.
There are moments that will probably scare kids, though Roth is constantly dialing those back to stay in child-friendly territory. Aside from a demon that looks particularly hairy, the film is mostly made up of scares of the pee-your-pants variety.
There's also a distinct lack of style or place, elements that make "It" and "Stranger Things" stand out.
Just like Mrs. Zimmerman's cookies, "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" is sweet and filled with nuts -- and as she says, "It's the nuts that make things interesting." If only there was a special ingredient to give this tale a unique flavor. But it does get a gold star for sympathetic unconventional heroes. And that just might be enough for parents, too.
Scott Tobias at NPR:
"The House with a Clock in the Walls" excises most of the ghostly encounters that occur after Lewis raises the dead, including a car pursuit that may be the scariest section in the book, and cuts straight to the hectic confrontation. The ramp-up of increased effects and Jack Black improvisations spills over into a retina-searing spectacle of flying CGI pumpkins, armies of mechanized dolls, and Mrs. Zimmerman zapping beasties with her purple umbrella laser blaster. Considered generously, this is Roth, a low-budget filmmaker, given the keys to the kingdom and taking the fullest possible advantage. But more likely, this is simply his idea of what attention-addled kids might like.
What's lost in this adaptation are more insinuating horror or the notion of magic as a craft that takes constant discipline and refinement to control. In a word, atmosphere. The short-term excitement of jump-scares and readily accessible spells are a poor trade-off for the steadily deepening mysteries and fears that have made Bellairs' book such an enduring classic. Bellairs and Gorey conjured images meant to play on the imagination forever. Roth's film will barely survive the ride home.
From Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times:
This screen version of a celebrated 1973 book by John Bellairs doesn’t have the sophistication of an adaptation like “Hugo,” but no film in which Cate Blanchett head-butts a vivified jack-o’-lantern could be entirely without merit.
From Molly Freeman at ScreenRant:
The House with a Clock in Its Walls comes from horror master Eli Roth (Cabin Fever, Hostel), who's made a name for himself with violent, R-rated fare, but proves himself adept at a different kind of horror with this family-friendly feature. Though House with a Clock in Its Walls is undoubtedly muted for the kids its intended for, Roth effectively balances tension-building scenes - aided by Nathan Barr's soundtrack - with horrific payoffs for some fun frights. Plus, the film has a skillfully written script by Eric Kripke (Supernatural, Timeless) that intertwines fantastical elements with horror and grounds it all in compelling characters - though, the movie undoubtedly favors the arcs of Black's Jonathan and Blanchett's Florence over Lewis, who is ostensibly the main character. Still, House with a Clock in Its Walls is undoubtedly a Kripke script, with plenty of humor and heart for viewers of all ages, that's brought to life with Roth's keen eye for horror
Ultimately, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an incredibly solid children's adventure that adults will be able to enjoy as well, though it may be too scary for younger kids. Its visuals and magical moments are stunning on the big screen, but may not warrant a trip to IMAX, where the sometimes-clunky CGI is unfortunately easier to see. Though it may not become a classic like previous Amblin-produced family adventures, The House with a Clock in Its Walls is an entertaining ride with plenty of fun and compelling characters - not to mention, quirky magical household items that will enchant viewers.