Film and drama

Screen Themes: The Predator vs The House With a Clock in Its Walls

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It’s time to go to the movies as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out the latest instalment in the Predator franchise and the first kids’ movie from horror director Eli Roth.

The Predator

Directed by Shane Black (2018)

There is no kind way to say this — The Predator is a bad movie. Aggressively bad. It’s wildly misogynistic, with the only female character of substance, played by Olivia Munn, being manhandled and belittled at every opportunity. It’s lazily written, poorly directed, uses mental illness as a punchline and it’s pretty clear that, by the end, most of the cast was happy to be eviscerated just to minimise further embarrassment.

The latest chapter in the Predator saga tells the story of a group of rough-and-tumble mercenaries with mental health problems pitted against a bigger, meaner Predator that, for some reason, everyone is referring to as a Predator now. This is a great example of the level of writing in this movie — if The Meg did it first, you know you’re doing it wrong.

Replacing Arnie as our anti-hero is former sniper McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), joined by a group including “guy who attempted suicide” (Trevante Rhodes), “guy with Tourette’s syndrome” (Thomas Jane), “Hispanic guy who loves Jesus” (Augusto Aguilera) and “that guy from Game of Thrones who had his dick cut off” (Alfie Allen). I use these dismissive archetypes to reflect exactly how much thought writer/director Shane Black has put into character development. And this is the same Shane Black who wrote Lethal Weapon. What happened, Shane?

But character development doesn’t matter in an action movie, right? As long as the action is good. But there’s the second problem. The action is okay, with a couple of fun kills from Predator 7.0 – or whatever number we’re up to now – but it’s almost immediately forgettable — I saw it three days ago and I’m struggling to recall one memorable action sequence. The Predator dogs were fun, I guess.

During the press junket for this film, it was revealed that Olivia Munn was forced to film a scene with a convicted sexual predator (and personal friend of director Black). While the film was ultimately cut from the movie, it does make the behaviour of many male cast members particularly egregious.

And don’t get me started on that final act bullshit of making fun of disability for an hour and then pretending that autism is a superpower when it serves the plot…

The House With a Clock in its Walls

Directed by Eli Roth (2018)

Yes, that Eli Roth. The one who directed Hostel, about a group of backpackers who are dismembered in creative ways in Eastern Europe. He also made Cabin Fever, where a group of young people go camping and get a horrible flesh-eating virus. Also The Green Inferno and Knock Knock, but far fewer people have seen or even heard of those last two. Suffice to say that Eli Roth is one of the auteurs of modern horror, whether you like his movies or not.

And now he’s made a kids’ movie, starring Jack Black, because R-rated horror movies don’t make $35 million on opening weekend. And you know what? In addition to being a lot of fun and celebrating weirdness (a trait I always appreciate in a movie), it’s pretty scary for a kids flick. I mean, it probably won’t give anyone nightmares, but if your kids are sensitive then maybe go see Johnny English 3 instead. My 9-year-old daughter’s favourite film is Aliens, so she wasn’t particularly bothered.

A slightly restrained Black stars as Jonathon Barnavelt, a magician who becomes the guardian of his orphaned nephew, Lewis (Owen Vaccaro), when the boy’s parents are killed in a car accident. Living in a house packed with clocks and arcane ornaments, Barnavelt is constantly accompanied by his neighbour and oldest friend, Florence Zimmerman, played with a breezy charm by Cate Blanchett. As Lewis struggles to fit in at school, Barnavelt and Zimmerman search for the hidden clock in the walls of the house, placed there by Barnavelt’s former partner, evil wizard Isaac Izard (Kyle MacLachlan).

Look, you can probably guess where the movie is going to go from the paragraph above, but there are a pretty entertaining 105 minutes to be had in getting there. Jack Black and Cate Blanchett make a delightful pairing, Roth builds suspense and anticipation without resorting to jump scares or gore for the payoff and even child actor Vaccaro isn’t too grating. Much to my surprise, The House With a Clock in Its Walls is one of those rare family films that are as entertaining for adults as they are for kids.

The Verdict

I saw these two films over a single weekend, each with one of my kids. This pairing is a great example of expectations shattered, as I was rather looking forward to The Predator. The ads were good, Boyd Holbrook has a backwoods sort of charm and it couldn’t be worse than those Alien vs Predator movies, right? Wrong. Oh so wrong. The Predator may well have been the worst film I have seen this year.

By contrast, I wasn’t expecting a lot from The House With a Clock in Its Walls. Jack Black always plays pretty much the same character and the last thing I saw Cate Blanchett in was the awful Ocean’s 8. Within minutes of the movie starting, I was pleasantly surprised, caught up in the story, impressed by the effects and cared about what happened to the characters.

It’s not necessarily a movie you need to see on the big screen, but The House With a Clock in Its Walls is a good movie for a rainy day.

Regarding The Predator, do yourself a favour and stick with the 1987 original.

The Predator — 1/10

The House With a Clock in Its Walls — 7/10

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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