Horror schlockmeister Eli Roth turns his hand to kiddie scares, and the result is surprisingly charming, offering genuinely appropriate entry-level spookiness for budding fright fans. When a newly-orphaned gradeschooler (Owen Vaccaro) is sent to live with his weird uncle (Jack Black), he discovers a haunted house, a witchy neighbor (Cate Blanchett) and magic and mysteries galore in his strange new life. A few unexpectedly clever gross-outs—jack-o’-lantern vomit!—and some deeply unsettling-though-still-PG-creepy imagery meets sweetly old-fashioned eerie foggy cemeteries, esoteric books in a fantasy retro 1950s with a vibe that’s just a little bit steampunk. There’s a lot of stuff crammed into this little movie, but somehow it all works together, particularly thanks to the terrific cast. While Blanchett vamps it up deliciously, Black tones down his mania, and they meet in a comic middle that is perfectly pitched. (Vaccaro is much better than many child actors, too.) Toss in an “embrace your weirdness” theme, and this is a total delight. Someone in Hollywood demanded, “Get me the next Harry Potter!” Dang if they didn’t get pretty close.
Director: Eli Roth
Producer: Bradley Fischer, James Vanderbilt, Eric Kripke, William Sherak, Tracey Nyberg, Laeta Kalogridis and Mark McNair
Cast: Jack Black, Cate Blanchett, Owen Vaccaro, Kyle MacLachlan, Renée Goldsberry, Colleen Camp, Sunny Suljic, Lorenza Izzo, Braxton Bjerken, Vanessa Williams, Ricky Muse and Charles Green