Considering his other film of 2018 was the abysmal and insensitive Death Wish remake, Eli Roth’s pivot to the child-oriented The House With A Clock In Its Walls (based on the young adult novel of the same name from Edward Gorey) may have taken quite a few people off guard. However, while I’ll admit the thought of him filming a horror story for kids had never crossed my mind until this announcement, it seemed like an area that Eli Roth may finally be able to shine in. Roth is well known for his over-the-top style of horror that can be interpreted either as enjoyable campy fun, or ridiculously stupid schlock depending on who you ask. Most of the time, I fall into the latter category but, just like a mother who keeps sending her deadbeat son checks in the mail, I always believed that Roth had a raw potential that was being wasted. The parts of Eli Roth’s style that I do enjoy always revolved around the obvious fun that he has on set, and the pure love he has for horror as a genre. What better place to explore that melodramatic dialogue and mess around with silly effects and scenarios than in a children’s horror film? Sure, he can’t be as bloody and insane as he is in all of his other movies, but the kitschy-ness of his style that usually comes across as messy or in poor taste would fit right in with a film all about an exuberant warlock and his larger-than-life house. This is what I wanted, what I hoped for, what I was really excited for. This is not what A House With a Clock In Its Walls gave me. Instead, what I got was a film that felt like the director himself had slept through it.
Picture the scene: a half-full cinema screen on a Saturday afternoon, a loud chattering of many teenage boys, a slightly off-putting scent of theatre food. When seated amongst this crowd, painfully hungover and desperate for light relief, there is a sudden blissful realisation of the very low expectations that one can credibly have for a movie such as the Jumanji remake. There is no pressure for this blockbuster to make any kind of impact on the cinematic world, nor is there anticipation for a mind-blowing script, notable acting skills, or clever direction. As a viewer, you’re sat amid people who share the understanding that what they are about to see is not exactly going to be Oscar material. Honestly, at this point, you just want some cool explosions to distract from the throbbing headache that triple vodka caused the night before.
The fact that ‘Jumanji’ manages to pull off two hours of thoroughly enjoyable entertainment, then, is a pleasant surprise. In fact, it’s proof that remakes, sequels and other such “popcorn movies” should be held up to a certain standard, even if that standard relies on their ability to successfully entertain and little else. Every inch of this movie is intended to keep the viewer in a comfortable lull of real life avoidance, and though there are many flaws that cannot be ignored, ultimately, these flaws do not lead to an overall critical failure.