Reviewed by: Charity Bishop
Witches in the Bible
demons in the Bible
Who is SATAN, the enemy of God and all people? Answer
Is Satan a real person that influences our world today? Is he affecting you? Answer
Sorcery mentioned in the Bible
What is the Occult? Answer
Orphans in the Bible
|Featuring:||Owen Vaccaro … Lewis Barnavelt
Jack Black … Jonathan Barnavelt—Lewis’s uncle
Cate Blanchett … Mrs. Zimmerman—a witch who is Jonathan’s neighbor and best friend
Renée Elise Goldsberry … Selena Izard
Kyle MacLachlan … Isaac Izard—a sorcerer who is Selena’s husband and the sinister original owner of the house
Lorenza Izzo … Lewis’ Mother
Colleen Camp … Mrs. Hanchett
Sunny Suljic … Tarby Corrigan—Lewis’ classmate
Perla Middleton … Parent / Teacher
Sandy Givelber … Kate
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|Director:||Eli Roth—“Hostel” 1-2 (2005, 2007), “The Green Inferno” (2013), “Death Wish” (2018), “Cabin Fever” (2003)|
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Necromancy, demons and demonic possession, witches, occult…
When John Bellairs published his novel about a little boy thrust into a peculiar house full of sinister events in 1973, he probably never anticipated it would become a big-screen blockbuster. But the cinematic treatment should please long-term fans of the children’s book—it has all the best moments from the novel plus involved back stories for the main characters and a worthy climax. But parents may want to think twice—this charming 1950’s tale has a demonic twist in the second half.
Lewis Barnavelt (Owen Vaccaro) loves his goggles (modeled after his favorite television character), his books (any kind, really) and big words. Really big words—like “Indomitable” (adjective: impossible to subdue or defeat). He’s smart. He’s curious. He’s eager to explore. The one thing he hasn’t got is his parents, which is why he’s sent to live with his uncle, Jonathan (Jack Black).
Jonathan’s house is full of dusty old books, stained glass windows that seem to change on a regular basis, and clocks. Clocks on shelves and in the walls. Clocks on tables and standing in corners. The constant ticking brings an eeriness to the mysterious old place where, as a school mate enjoys telling him, “someone died.” Lewis wouldn’t much mind that, except his uncle prowls the corridors at night, listening to the walls. And quite often, he and his best friend and neighbor, Florence Zimmerman (Cate Blanchett), hustle Lewis off to school so he won’t overhear their worried conversations.
But as Lewis comes to find out, there’s more to the old house than first appears… and there are two kinds of magic involved: the “good” kind, practiced by his uncle, and the bad kind, such as is shut up in a book Lewis isn’t allowed to read. But, after all, Lewis is a curious boy… so, of course, he opens it.
What follows is a hilarious, frightening, atmospheric tale about three unlikely heroes coming to terms with their own fears. The discerning adult will pick up on the subtle nuances—the concentration camp numbers tattooed on a woman’s arm; the deep sorrow of a child who misses his parents so much that he would disobey the laws of magic to be with them again; the happy-go-lucky uncle who has to learn you don’t turn away from parenting when it gets hard or the child makes mistakes.
The characters are memorable and funny and the house delightful. But the story also comes with a dose of magic—both of the enchanting kind (funny scenes of floating vacuum cleaners, animated garden topiaries, and a stuffed chair that acts like a dog) and a far more sinister kind. (This section includes spoilers.) Lewis learns the house belonged to an evil warlock who made a pact with the Devil, and he accidentally raises this warlock from the dead using the forbidden spell book. A creepy scene involves him using blood magic for the resurrection spell (both adults strongly condemn this and his use of “blood magic” when they find out), and a flashback to the warlock meeting a demon in the wood, giving it his blood, and saying the demon’s evil clock “just appeared in my mind. [… ] I was dead long before I died.” (The implication is demonic possession.)
The director’s horror film roots come out in his depiction of creepy animated dolls that terrorize the trio, including one with a devil’s head, vicious pumpkins that puke orange goop over everyone, and a weird scene where a man’s body shrinks to that of a baby while he retains his original sized head (the naked infant crawls around and cries, but we never see graphic nudity).
Regardless of where you stand on the use of magic in fiction, it’s likely the biggest issue Christians will have with the film comes from the necromancy (condemned by God in Deuteronomy 18:10-12 and Revelation 21:8). Even though it’s portrayed as evil and has horrific consequences for everyone involved (and teaches Lewis a lesson about disobedience), it lends a sinister, demonic element to the story. The bloated reanimated corpse makes several appearances, along with other grotesque images (including a woman shape-shifting into different forms). Lewis also uses a magic eight ball to “talk to his parents.”
A later plot twist reveals the demons (and evil warlock) want to reverse time and erase humanity by recreating the world anew (the warlock says he will “prevent humans from being created” but does not reveal how—whether this involves a Genesis creation or Evolution). They make frequent references to a “Doomsday Clock.” And while the characters talk about evil and demons, they never mention the divine or God (there is one reference to “Omega” being used as a symbol for the end of days by the “early Christians”). This deliberate exclusion embraces the secular worldview of the film, which is that the only thing that stands against the evil of powerful warlocks is “good” witches and warlocks.
Other content concerns are lighter. There’s a couple of mild profanities, and a single use of “good lord.” Florence tells Lewis there’s no “kissy face” going on between her and Jonathan. A running gag includes a living garden topiary farting leaves. Various scenes involve characters under threat. We see bullies shoving kids around at school; one punches Lewis in the stomach. He also has no qualms about “cheating” using magic (he tries to impress a friend by promising to show him a spell to “win every game he plays” and uses magic to clobber hateful kids in the face with a ball).
Cinematically, this movie is a visual treat with many deliberate references to the original Edward Gorey illustrations. The dialog is witty and includes the side-splitting insults from the book (Jonathan and Florence are always trading them out of dry-witted humor). The first half is a delightful romp, but the second half contains scenes that could give children nightmares.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.